Blade Runner 2049 – Out with the Old, in with the New?

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Runtime: 164mins | Director: Denis Villeneuve | Rating: 3.5 Stars

Before I delve into the review of Blade Runner 2049, I feel it’s important to start from the beginning and give my two cents on the original Blade Runner. This sort of discussion is bound to cause controversy in some way or another given it’s now attained ‘classic’ status, but even so, I didn’t like it. At all. I also feel it’s worth mentioning I chose to watch the ‘Final Cut’ given that Denis Villeneuve, the director of 2049, said that that is the one the sequel is canon to.

Given that I deem myself a cinephile, I was somewhat ashamed of myself that I hadn’t seen Blade Runner until about two weeks ago. I went into it expecting great things given that almost everyone I had ever spoken to about it told me it was a masterpiece which revolutionised the sci-fi genre and explored the concept of A.I. better than anyone had done so before. Whilst I acknowledge, and admire it, for paving the way for the modern sci-fi genre, I think people only still raucously praise it due to a misguided sense of nostalgia, rather than it actually being an exceptional film.

My biggest problems with the original Blade Runner were primarily that it didn’t explore the question of artificial intelligence deeply enough, and that the plot was incredibly slow burning, and ultimately, not at all interesting - not even its beautiful cinematography and soundtrack could bait my attention for long. Fortunately, I found that Blade Runner 2049 remedied both of these issues and explored the concept in more depth, and whilst still, a slow burner, it had me much more captivated than its predecessor.

*SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN, BE WARNED*

Blade Runner 2049 begins 30 years on in the future where a new form of Replicant (a human looking android for those who aren’t familiar) has been designed which serves humanity without any risk of rebellion. Agent K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner (and also one of the new Replicants), is sent on a mission which leads him to discover the buried remains of a Replicant who gave birth to a child – something previously thought to be impossible. This leads him into chaos when he is told to find and kill the child to keep it a secret. If people found out it was possible for a Replicant to have children, then this would blur the line beyond repair of what it means to be human making it harder to subordinate Replicants. Whilst attempting to find the child, Agent K meets Deckard (Harrison Ford), the protagonist of the original film. Whilst K and Deckard attempt to find the child, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the kingpin of Replicant creation and his henchwoman, Luv, attempt to bring them down by any means possible.

For me, Blade Runner 2049 vastly improved on the original as it explored the concept of A.I. in more depth which the previous one failed to do. In this instalment, for example, we get to see how memories were created for Replicants and the inspirations behind them. This was something I remember wishing was explored more in the first film, so it was great to finally have an answer. As well as that, it also explored the concept of love. The relationship between K and his purchased digital companion, Joi (Ana de Armas), was a philosophical delight to watch. K and Joi genuinely love each other – the emotions are there, but the physical side isn’t. Does this undermine their relationship? Does it make it any less valuable? That was something I enjoyed being provoked to think about.

There is a fantastic scene in the film where Joi hires a prostitute for K to sleep with as she cannot do so herself. When she arrives, Joi overlaps the prostitute with her holographic form to mimic her actions. Whilst they begin engaging in intimate acts, Joi’s hologram blurs in and out of focus allowing the viewer (and presumably, K) to see a blurred, yet still oddly attractive, amalgamation of Joi and the prostitute. When watching ‘the threesome scene’ as I’ve termed it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Spike Jonze’s, Her – a film which also primarily deals with the question of love in relation to A.I. and also has a scene where the A.I. in question engages in sex through a prostitute. This left me thinking though… which explored these concepts better?

For me, this sums up my key problem. With both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, the story and universe behind the films had such promise, yet to me, they fail to deliver anything truly remarkable narrative-wise. Whilst 2049 explored these concepts in much more depth, it still didn’t do so to the extent I’d have liked. With films such as Her and Ex Machina existing which delve so deeply into the concept of A.I. and it’s relation to humanity, it’s hard not to be disappointed when something with such potential fails to deliver to the same extent they do. Especially when it has nearly 3 hours of running time and a huge budget to try.

Luckily for 2049, the thematic concepts aren’t its only draw – the cinematography is simply breath-taking. Set in a dystopian futuristic world, we are taken on a journey through barren sepia-toned orange deserts and grey, metallic cities emblazoned with colourful fluorescent lights. It’s simply a beauty to behold. It was also in my, and presumably many other’s opinions, Roger Deakins’ (the director of photography) best work. If he doesn’t finally win an Oscar for this film then the world has gone mad. He deserves it.

In summary, despite my somewhat negative review, Blade Runner 2049 is an undoubted success. It’s visually stunning and explored questions that the first failed to do (though that wasn’t something hard to do in my opinion…). It cannot be denied that Denis Villeneuve was brave to tackle such an iconic film’s sequel – many would have declined to do so. Fortunately, he did a good job. Whilst many may disagree, I believe this film is a clear improvement on the first, meaning that Ridley Scott may no longer be the ‘King of Sci-Fi’… Out with the old and in with the new perhaps? 

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