Blade Runner 2049 is a breathtaking look at human nature. With astounding set pieces and a story steeped in humanity, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the cult classic is remarkable in its boldness. Come ready to marvel at the immense scale of this experience, because Blade Runner 2049 is a must-see.
2049’s dystopia is the cornerstone of its beauty. The film opens with brief text that describes humanity’s use of humanoid slaves, or replicants, both on Earth and the off-world colonies. These new replicants are indistinguishable from humans, and it’s up to blade runners such as Officer K (Ryan Gosling) to hunt down rogue ones and retire them.
The answers to K’s latest case lie behind him, however, as he must uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of Officer Deckard (Harrison Ford). The loss of humanity in the quest for social progress is the central theme in 2049. Villeneuve blurs the lines between human and replicant, questioning whether biology or belonging reign supreme in the search of what it means to be human.
2049 is both delightful and unsettling to watch. Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have given us a shoo-in for Best Picture nomination at the Oscars next year. In the film, Los Angeles is forlorn and austere, seeping in ruin reminiscent of Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias. Meanwhile, Las Vegas is abandoned, enveloped in a sandy haze that disorients and captivates the viewer. The all-powerful Wallace Corporation has headquarters of dizzying scale, dominating the skyline and enthralling the ear with its trembling score.
These set pieces take us on a journey through heaven and hell. However, they are all a stage, as they are underpinned by Officer K’s internal journey through heaven and hell. His burgeoning self-awareness and the film’s heady themes are the real show. This combination of the spectacular and substantive make Villeneuve’s latest masterpiece a thoroughly rich one.
Gosling is captivating in his role as K, torn between his sworn duty as a blade runner and his emergent loyalty to humanity. He slowly develops from a cold, laconic role cop to a stoic protector of civilization. In a universe as expansive and grim as Villenueve’s LA in 2049, K’s facial expressions are a subtle emotional guide for the viewer, and the only one at that. Gosling’s experience with such emotional demands is evident, however. Most comparable to Blade Runner 2049, in this respect, is Alex Winding Refn’s 2011 indie-noir Drive. The viewer’s only guide through Drive’s bleak story is Gosling’s emotional narrative, found solely in his face. Viewers may struggle to remain engaged in nearly three hours-worth of dystopian man-hunting and philosophizing with such a subtle emotional foundation. While Gosling is up to this challenge in my opinion, the oppressive scale and duration of Blade Runner 2049’s conflict—relative to our hero and his journey—is the largest of this movie’s few weaknesses.
Another primary weakness this movie suffers from is an underdeveloped subplot that emerges in the third act. Time will tell if it gives root to a third installment, yet within 2049, the subplot feels hastily thrown in. The third and final part of this movie I took issue with was Robin Wright’s Lieutenant Joshi, K’s superior. Wright draws on a wealth of experience as a hard-nosed authority figure, with similar roles in Wonder Woman and House of Cards. However, her character’s adjustment to developments in the plot feel forced and short of realistic. Moreover, her exposition of deeper elements at work cheapen the underlying development we see K undergo. Gosling portrays K’s inner journey with ravishing subtlety and does not need Joshi serving as a de facto narrator.
Overall, I loved Blade Runner 2049. It is stunning both visually and thematically, exceeding genre norms in both. It would be a travesty for this movie to get passed up come Oscar season; it is my easy choice for Best Cinematography. With Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve has achieved a sequel that is both respectful to its roots as well as remarkably deep and engaging in its own right. Get a good night’s rest beforehand and show out this weekend for a must-see experience. Blade Runner 2049 is a spell-binding thrill ride well-deserving of an 8/10.