Blade Runner 2049 (****) chooses life

Blade-Runner-2049

Blade Runner 2049 – 2017

Director Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

There is a very strong theme in Blade Runner 2049 that helps to make its predecessor a better film. Of course, just defining what version of the movie Blade Runner is the predecessor would be a boon for those who enjoyed the series. In this particular case, we’re going to go with The Final Cut, as discussed with my friend WeMissE earlier this month. In that version, the last thing we see is a decisive Deckard (Ford) picking up the girl and heading to the elevator.

Picking up 30 years later, we have a new Blade Runner, named K, who is hunting down the rest of the Nexus 8 model Replicants, who had escaped an attempted purge shortly after the events of the first film. What happened to the rest of the Model 6’s, or even Model 7’s for that matter remains unasked and unanswered.

In an effort to avoid giving anything away, it can be stated that one of the 8’s is found right off the bat. He presents a twist right away. This will likely be common knowledge soon, but it was nice for me not to know right away, so I will not ruin it. If the first thing we learn is not enough, a bigger secret is revealed shortly there after. The knowledge of the secret sets K off on a voyage of discovery which leads him to ask questions more overtly, but no less entertainingly than with Harrison Ford’s Deckard.

On the side of humanity, we have Robin Wright’s Lt. Joshi. Her motives are simple, whatever it takes to keep the bio-engineered humans in line. She is not a cruel person, but her methods are blunt and merciless. She feels knowledge of the secret is a powder keg necessary to extinguish before it explodes.

In their own category of interest, we have Niander Wallace (a wholly overcooked Leto) and his number 1, Luv (Hoeks). They follow K’s progress closely, interfering when they need to. It’s made very obvious who that bad guys are from the beginning, the other mystery is only a little harder to figure.

Mystery is not the main point of Blade Runner, though. It’s atmosphere, feeling and, to a lesser extent, philosophical questions on the nature of existence. What makes a human, human?  What makes a Replicant potentially more so?

As the evolving K, Gosling has never been more suited for a role. His look , a mixture of earnest curiosity and casual disconnect conveys the drive of someone looking to connect the dots. Whether you know what is coming up or not, it’s easy to follow and be drawn into his quest. While it’s never quite clear the connection he has with his virtual girlfriend, Joi (de Armas), it the sense of yearning is easy enough for us to connect. His reaction to others is interesting, too. His sense of vulnerability, even when there are things he’s clearly superior at, gives more to the plot than a million words could.

Hoeks is the most riveting presence of the rest of the cast. Her Luv has a clear sense of purpose that is a fresh contrast to the rest of the cast. She marches through the film like Famke Janssen in Goldeneye, only without the ridiculous puns.

Dave Bautista’s somber performance as Sapper Morton is frustrating, if for no other reason than for the potential he shows with the character. One can see how nice it would have been to see more of him by watching him in the short 2048 – Nowhere to Run.

Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful film. It is ponderous and vastly close in its recreation of the world created by Ridley Scott. While the original is good, with elements of noir and questioning of the way we treat those we deem different than us, it doesn’t give us enough of its most interesting character, Roy Batty.

This time, we have the benefit of more interesting characters, and a plethora of wonderful scenes that allow for us to enjoy the vast landscapes of futuristic earth and Ryan Gosling’s expressions.

Harrison Ford is better, too. You can actually feel his affection for Rachel now, when before it seemed like she was just an outlet for his desire, then. His take on love is a unique avenue.

One can feel the continuity between the films, but moreover this film feels like an improvement on the original by fleshing out and reinvigorating the story, with the same screenwriter in Fancher. Villeneuve understands and appears to love the world he’s inherited and he treats the viewer intelligently by not treading over the same ground.

The journey of Gosling is offset by the action scenes, especially between Replicants. There are no real amazing feats, but enough things that seem like they’d be hard to do. It does present a curiosity that has not been answered in two films.

What does it take to kill a Replicant? Sometimes its a well placed shot. Sometimes a few hits in the right places. Sometimes, a knife being run up the side through the rib cage doesn’t even do it. Near as I can tell, the only thing that does end one is when the plot point requires them to be gone.

As for the freaky creator figure, Wallace is on par with Joe Turkel’s Tyrell. He is more annoying, for all of Leto’s need to make sure he’s completely method. He has so few scenes where he actually moves, it’s funny to hear he spent so much time actually blinding himself. In the end, he moved his head around weird and talked in a stupid tone. Not any of this added anything to the film. I am sure that he got something out of it, but the audience does not.

If there is something else to observe, it’s that there still seems to be no role for a fully functional woman. This time, we have a toothless authority figure (Wright) who is drawn to K. We have a completely doting and pliant Joi, who provides nothing but (literally) hollow platitudes and dedication to K. That leaves my favorite, Luv. She is straight badass. None of these characters develop in any way.

The simple argument is that they are peripheral characters. The first film has Deckard and Batty taking the journey, and 2049 has K and Deckard again. If we follow simple logic, it is just he economy of characters. We can’t care about Rachel, Zhora or Pris or their counterparts because the story is not really about them. Until one of them has died…

Like I said, it’s not so much a criticism as an observation.

The film is longer by 3/4 of an hour, but this is augmented by the gorgeous camera work of Roger Deakins. The soundtrack works better for me and seems less dated. One finds it very easily drawn into the investigation with K. We know where he’s intending to go, but we never quite know where he’ll end up.

There’s a lot here for people who loved the first film. For those who just liked it, like yours truly, this bridges some gaps. Not sure where they can go with the next film, if there is one with the same writer, it is sure to be interesting.

(**** out of *****)

 

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