director: Denis Villeneuve
writers: Hampton Fancher & Michael Green
starring: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Jared Leto
genre: Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
released: 5 October 2017 (Australia, Germany & Greece), 6 October 2017 (USA)
Despite the first 'Blade Runner' being butchered in the editing room upon its theatrical release, it still managed to attract a significant fan-base across the years and be considered by many as the ultimate sci fi film. A lot of the same compliments could be said about its sequel 2049 in terms of style, visuals and concept, but also possibly that it does a few things better along the way and maybe also is the better film of the two.
On an alternate Earth future and in the year 2049 humans have created androids called replicants. These androids are highly intelligent and fit for labor and services that humans aren't able to do or no longer want. Not all of these replicants are obedient to mankind's commands and the punishment for this is forced retirement by an enforcement team called Blade Runners.
When the Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) finds a replicant who had more secrets than he led on about, it will lead him on a journey of his own true nature, what the potential for the replicants are and if humanity's usage of them will lead them down to the dark and disastrous path of obsolescence.
Director Denis Villeneuve knew this sequel was a risky endeavor and that if he didn't tread carefully he would be in hot water with the die hard fans. 2 weeks after the films international release the reactions to the film have been great and from almost all circles. Nevertheless, there were those on the radical political end that couldn't help themselves and cry out for attention and point to the film's great "oppression" of classes and other hogwash nonsense. Naturally, these topics won't be delved into at any length in the review. As these people and their ideas are a waste of time, with the film itself not being overtly political at all and for the review to focus only on the actual themes at play and the ones most people could logically interpret as well. Not the ones we only see to fit our own ideological and political narratives.
'2049' primarily focuses on picking up on many of the thematic threads touched upon in the first film such as humans becoming gods with the creation of the replicants and the fear that they one day could become the superior race. Also, the big question that once you create life what rules do you set for their obedience and place in the world is a subject the world of 'Blade Runner' hasn't still come to grips with. Not to mention, that this world has lost its meaning and morality completely. With humanity more in concern with sexual activity and consumerism, while the whole world around them is dystopian hellhole. It really is a fictional reality of how far human ingenuity might lead us to our downfall. With replicants being more human than human in many ways. Being the ones that want to take control of their lives and break the status quo.
Thankfully, regarding the last part this was not explored fully within the film. One thing in general to fear with these revivals is studio insistence on building up to more sequels to come. This film's focus is to be a standalone film first, continue from what happened before, but briefly also touch upon a replicant group underground that are fighting for freedom. Now, that doesn't mean a good film couldn't come from that later on and the three conflicting sides potentially at play. Humans fighting for their right to do what they want with their property (so to speak), with tech giant Wandall wanting to be God on Earth with an army of Replicants by his side and the underground replicants who want nothing but freedom from human persecution and forced labor. Which makes sense within the film as all these replicants were also given memories, emotions and almost to a point a conscience (why they were given these things is beyond me). However, as mentioned that is far as it goes. SPOILERS. What I was initially afraid was that the replicant underground would follow K and attack the Wandall corporation in a big final act action scene. Creating a cliched collective conflict of us versus them, from what was already a really good individualistic story of determining one's self worth in K's character arc. Thankfully, and to the very end this remained K's story.
With the theme though of human ingenuity going off the rails. It's great to know that the filmmakers had at their behest the tools to show it off and explore a little more the intricacies of man playing god. As in a way the replicants are almost Darwin's theory of 'survival of the fittest' coming to bite us on our rear end. With the replicants being a more improved version of ourselves that didn't though come from random changes due to survival throughout the ages, but from a divine creator. And now (SPOILERS) that we know that they can procreate, their beginning and our end is at hand.
This film compared to the last one changes around the setup from what by all accounts was a human investigating and hunting down replicants. Also, being confronted with the question of his own humanity. SPOILER! Here it's a replicant hunting his own with the possibility of him being a by product of replicant and human birth. The film does well with this switch up and the subsequent twists that follow. In many ways I enjoyed more Ryan Gosling's performance and arc than Deckard's in the first film. As my opinion is that he didn't have much of a character to begin with in the original. Here Gosling has much more dialog and actually has a real investigation on his hands. He also goes through hell emotionally and psychically to solve the case and his origin for that matter is heartbreaking with twists and again much more to do.
Also, what was interesting is the little subplots in the film and how they connected to the main film. One of which is K's romance with an AI software, which shows as with the first film the length human disconnection with reality can go once technology rules our lives completely. Then there is the replicant rebel group that in the beginning does come out of nowhere, but you guess they were keeping tabs on the replicant on the protein farm from the get go. Another thing that I personally liked was that more of supporting cast felt alive and vulnerable compared to the first film. With a henchwoman vital to the plot and an equal match to K and no real moments where things dragged. I know they are those that loved the first film and while it was good and with a lot of artistic merit, it is also was a little slow, corny and empty at times.
Also, while the visuals and the music the first time were mesmerizing and unique for that time period, it should not be said that Villeneuve and the production copied what they saw the first time and just imitated the rest. As the visuals here are on par with the first and with Villeneuve going above and beyond to make this a captivating and jaw dropping experience. Naturally, the effects and art design help in this and should be nominated in the Academy Award technical categories. But, his input was a major factor and one that you can recognize once you've seen some of his previous work (Arrival, Enemy).
In regard to the film's main villain a lot could be said. But, first we have to give it to Jared Leto, who actually gave a good performance and nailed his influences and portrayal down for the tech giant Wallace. Especially coming right after the dismal Joker incarnation that was to say the least unimposing and childish. Here there is mystery to him, a desire to be God and to be worshiped, but also a lack of real understanding to why he wants to be super evil or even how his plot is going to unravel without the child and how would it unravel if he didn't still know about it. Not necessary for the film, but an antagonist makes or breaks films. And overall the antagonism in the film from him to his henchwoman and even the first replicant in the beginning of the film all add charm, emotional portrayals and depth. Something you can't say about a lot of blockbuster villains in general (see Thor 2). So, in a way count your lucky stars.
However, that final punch the film needed in all honesty wasn't there and this came about from the natural understanding that K and Deckard won't most likely come to fatal blows, with one of the two needing to survive, the rebellion angle that led towards a different path and a lot of strings and movements in the background that we were never made privy to or understood. As internal mechanisms of this complex world remain hidden to us and much of strings being pulled may seem pushed or out of nowhere. Such as the Wandall reach into the police department, the lack of state supervision of replicant creations and so on and so forth. This and a little bit more did lead to the film from being something more, something not only great, but transcendent. Maybe not enough here to make it one day into a classic, but still enough to be a powerhouse production to be witnessed in a movie theater.
As far as sequels go that we never thought we would see or thought we needed to see, this was more than we could have ever requested. This is truly a work of visionary excellence, with one of the best scores of the year, with some are greatest stars of old and new on screen, while maybe being directed by the only person alive today that is able to go toe to toe with Christopher Nolan creatively, cerebrally and on a blockbuster level with. A name you should all know by now Denis Villeneuve.