Blade Runner 2049
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I was initially not interested in this film, didn't even see the need for a sequel. In both movies and books I'm usually not upset if I have questions afterwards, since it's always fun to speculate and visualize beyond what's on the screen or on the page. After the disaster of Prometheus I was even more skeptical. Then it was announced that Denis Villenueve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) would be directing instead of Ridley Scott, and Hampton Fancher was on board to co-write the screenplay, as he did with the original. Roger Deakins is one of the premiere cinematographers, and Hans Zimmer has always been equally impressive as a composer. Add all those up and what do you have? A visual and aural feast to be sure, with a story line that is subtle and simple, while at the same time exploring many of the same complex themes as the original film. It will take several more viewings to formulate my eventual rating, and I'm curious if we will get multiple edits of this one too. There was at least one time I felt the need for a transition between one scene and the next. The cast listing on IMDb is generally in order of appearance, although I think they made at least one mistake. I am sure Jared Leto's first scene came before the one and only scene with Edward James Olmos, who reprises his role of Gaff.
By the time I created this site, then reviewed 1982's Blade Runner, that film was already close to twenty years old, and I had seen it many times in various edits. I went into great detail, including spoilers, to address the speculation that Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was a replicant himself. I concluded that it was a possibility, but that it didn't matter either way, it didn't affect the overall impact of the film. Ford was puzzled because he said there was no indication of it in the script or in any conversations he had with Scott during filming, and yet as recent as 2012 Scott was still claiming Deckard was a Nexus-6. I now think that was merely a marketing ploy by Scott, to generate interest for people to revisit the film in its new edit. This time we know up front that KD9-3.7 (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant, and that it is likely he has implanted memories, as did Rachael (Sean Young). The Nexus-9 series supposedly corrected the individualistic tendencies of earlier models, making the new generation one of compliance and obedience to human command. This series only has letter and number designations, they're not given names, and I do not think it a coincidence that Gosling's character is a K. Get it? K, 9th series. Obedient servant.
But what happens when a servant starts to question whether they have another purpose, another reason for being? Can an artificial person have individual initiative? The first film said yes, but showed that posed the same problem as with human individuality. Some will be honorable and noble, others will be selfish and brutal in their quest to retain their sovereignty of personhood. Robots and androids have always been utilized in SF as a metaphor for either our noble aspirations or our base desires. Can an android have a soul? Do we even have souls, or is our essence something we will never discover or understand? Can an artificial being help us to better understand what it means to be human? It's always an interesting speculation, but I doubt we'll get to that sophistication of manufacture by 2049, and certainly not by 2019, which is when the original was set. We also won't get flying cars by either date, but I'll bet this film verifies one thing that will still be true by 2049. Advertisers (and probably filmmakers) will still be objectifying women. There is one other plot element proposed, something not even hinted at in the original, and one I seriously doubt is possible no matter how sophisticated robotics become. I won't spoil that, except to say it is something apparently inherent in the Nexus-6 line, but not in current models. The Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt, now replicants are manufactured by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). He is desperate to discover that technological miracle, desperate enough to enable the replicant Luv (Silvia Hoeks) to defy the compliance protocols. Wallace might even be a replicant himself, or if not, has enhanced himself with several electronic implants.
The first film has grown in stature over the years, both in my estimation and that of other viewers and critics. Will the same hold true for the sequel? Only time and multiple viewings will tell, but I'm skeptical at this time. First, it's overlong for the story it needed to tell, and I'm discouraged it seems to set up more story. I do not want this to become yet another unending franchise, as Scott surely wants for the Alien universe, and James Cameron for Terminator and Avatar. Yes, there is more story that could be explored, but as with the first film, I can invision that on my own, and what I think about might end up being more interesting than what another sequel would show. The cinematography and set design are superb, very similar to the original in the urban scenes, but we do get a wider range of locations here, including a Las Vegas devastated by a previous nuclear attack. There are similar dark and gloomy scenes, although the noirish asthetic is not as strong. One other negative for now. The music and sound effects are good, very evocative and emotional at the right time, but the problem is the sound mixing. Sometimes it's just overwhelming. If I do buy this on disc I am sure I'll have to raise the volume for scenes of dialog, reduce it for the action scenes.
As I said above, there is one scene that transitions into another that seemed to be missing something. How did K get from the San Diego salvage yard/orphanage back to headquarters in L.A. when his flying car was damaged? I'm maybe forgetting something now, but I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing this in the theater again, and based on box office performance it might be heading to disc sooner than originally planned. I'll revisit this page if I have any further ideas. On IMDb I've rated the original a 9 out of 10, and at this time the new film gets an 8, subject to later revision. No matter what my final opinion turns out to be, I do recommend this, even for those who might not have seen the original. It does have action and terrific special effects, but as with the original, the story itself, and the questions it raises, are more important.
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