Blade Runner 2049

SPOILER ALERT

Director Denis Villeneuve

This visually stunning sequel is an excellent next chapter in the replicant/Deckard saga, with an intriguing story and pieces which feel satisfying. The story of what happened to Deckard, the replicants and the Tyrell Corp seem well conceived, and the tale unfolds nicely. There are holes here and there, mostly in the lack of character development, but nothing so out of the ordinary for the genre. Although the three hour running time felt a bit too long upon second viewing, I didn’t notice it as much during the initial screening, and any trims I can think of seem trivial and make me doubt they cut much from the overall length. The pacing, although slower than a typical action film, felt appropriate and I was never impatient to see the next scene.

Ryan Gosling captures the subtle shift in emotional depth of the replicant Blade Runner K/Joe, which overall is kept on a simmer, probably by the script and Villeneuve’s direction. Harrison Ford’s turn as the 30 years older Deckard has little screen time in this almost three hour film, but he makes the most of it and let’s us easily slide into the Deckard we expect, if not the one we hoped for.

The supporting cast also fares well, especially in Ana de Armas’ portrayal of Joi, a holographic character who further explores the question of what is human and who is essential to the emotional evolution of Joe. The visual achievements of Joi on screen are amazing and beautiful, peaking in the visual syncing of Joi and Marietta for the seduction scene. Robin Wright does well with little as the Police Chief and Sylvia Hoecks is very good as Luv “the best one” of Wallace’s “angels.” Jared Leto fares poorly as Niander Wallace, not so much because of his work, but because of the cartoonish character. The creepy level is high, but better to have had more of a real human to whom we can relate than such a cliched monster.

The production design, visual effects and other world-building techniques are utilized magnificently to create this Los Angeles in 2049. Although we don’t spend as much time with the natives as in the original, it feels of an evolutionary piece, and we do get a visceral sense of what the different environs of the story are like, from the desolate farms, to the megalopolis that LA has become, to the city street of sex workers, to the wastelands of San Diego, to the radioactive desert of Las Vegas. The look of the film is due in large part to the incredible cinematography of Roger Deakins, and is sure to garner an Oscar nomination. If justice is done, he should finally win his first.

The score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer felt very appropriate, if a bit overwrought, and at first I thought it was a direct segue from the score for Arrival by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Villeneuev’s previous film. The broad use of droning bass tones and score-as-soundscape is a good fit for the world we encounter, but it also feels too loud and too “listen to me”, which I attribute to Zimmer, since that is often a feeling I get from his work.

Whether you are a fan of the original or encountering this sequel first, this is a Must See.

Podcast

I was a podcast guest on a couple of Overthoughts episodes, one about the original film, the other on the sequel. You can find these and many more great conversations about art, media and culture on The Overthink Podcast Network.

2 thoughts on “Blade Runner 2049

  1. Mimi says:

    I just watched this and was excited to see you had a review of it! It was particularly interesting to me to think about Deckard’s dog in the film. Dogs today are essentially created by and live/die at the pleasure of humans, which mirrors the idea of replicants also being a created by humans. So many questions raised about relationship between creator and created, the responsibility of the creator, the lack of power of the created, and allusions to Christian ideals of God vs human.

    • Jorge says:

      I love your thought about the dog as a touchstone for today’s replicants, and the notions about creator and created! Sounds as if we need to explore this conversation further. I’ll be in touch!

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