“Blade Runner 2049 (2017)” Review

Went to the cinema yesterday. Saw me a sequel to a film that’s 35 years old.

Why did I watch it?

Basically the answer to this is @joenicholls. I mean, part of the answer is that Denis Villeneuve direct Arrival (2016) which was far and away the best film I saw last year, and so I want to see more of his stuff. But, of course, the real significance of this is that it is the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic (or should that be 2007 classic?) which I watched and disliked years ago… and then Joe gave me the bluray and on each new viewing I’ve got more and more from it. Blade Runner is an extraordinary film, and it’s not just me who has taken some time to appreciate it – its reputation as grown over the years  – and it even took its director 25 years from its first theatrical release to finish it off.

I saw the original film for only the third or fourth time last weekend. I realised I’d pretty much misunderstood most of what I thought before, and I developed a new appreciation for the monumental soundtrack, as well as reaffirming my recollections of the incredibly powerful the imagery.

Did it meet expectations?

There’s no denying expectations of this film are fairly gargantuan. I guess this needs to be divided into how well it works as a sequel, and how well it works as a film in its own right.

The success of Blade Runner 2049 is the way it explores the layers of “humanity” we find in it – where the original blurred the lines between human and the indistinguishable replicants, the sequel explores the well defined distinctions between the Nexus 8s, the ‘obedient’ replicants, and even the holographic love interest Joi, an evolution of Siri into virtual girlfriend. By exposing the race/strain/species (and bringing into the open all of the associated prejudices) so all of the attitudes and social constraints become, to some degree, internalised. The origin is not so important as the conformity, the mental ‘balance’ which is so memorably referenced against a ‘baseline’ state of being.

K, our hero, is only willing to question his role because he believes there is the distinction between being born and made is having a soul. This blade runner starts questioning whether he is made not born, rather than the other way round. But he is unwilling to recognise his own humanity without first questioning his own provenance.

This is where the films diverge – with the original film being concerned with dreams more than memories. In each case, Gaff expresses something that belongs to the mind, but Deckard’s unicorn is never supposed to be real, whereas K’s wooden horse is a vital clue to his origin. In Blade Runner, when Roy talks of memories, their significance is not what they tell of his genetic origin, but their loss, with his life. Like tears in rain.

This is something – and my views on this will probably change in a few hours; there’s so much to think about in this film – but this is something that I think it much more about a racial or tribal conflict. Where Zhora, Pris, Roy et. al. were carefully drawn as individuals, here there is a potential replicant mass uprising, with Lt. Joshi fearing that tearing down the social constructs will lead to a bloody conflict or a massacre.

Blade Runner itself, of course, has been hugely influential, so it’s strange to see its sequel borrowing from those it influenced; the likes of The Matrix and the new Battlestar Gallactica (and others, no doubt, that I am not aware of).

As a film in its own right, Blade Runner 2049 is an extraordinary spectacle. What it lacks in the richness and liveliness compared to 2019 LA it makes up in sheer scale and bleakness. It’s visually stunning.

The soundtrack is not as evocative as Vangelis’ original but while it pays homage it has a harshness and sparsity that suits the visuals well.

While Ryan Gosling as K exhibits some of the detachment of Deckard in the original, it feels like his character goes on a very different journey (unlike Deckard, who, whether he is a replicant or not feels far more human). Robin Wright is superb as K’s boss; Ana de Armas gives and eerie performance as his virtual assistant/girlfriend and participates in one of the most surreal love scenes in cinema.

I didn’t care at all for the character of Jared Leto’s Wallace, but as his assistant Sylvia Hoeks as Luv was absolutely delicious and stole scene after scene. However, the fight scene towards the end felt out of place; Luv certainly didn’t have the complexity of Roy and so as adversary she is less than ultimate. Indeed, generally, I didn’t feel the characters had the same depth. When Deckard tells K he used to have his job, K tells him “things were simpler then”. Well, maybe the narrative had less to it (no bad thing, I’ve come to believe) but the characters certainly weren’t simpler then.

I’ll ponder on what I felt were a few wrong turns towards the end; but up to a certain point I thought the film was more or less flawless. There were, perhaps, too many loose ends tied up when I’d been conditioned to expect more ambiguity…especially the final reveal which had been so heavily hinted early on. It felt like the payoff was to settle an obligation rather than giving us any new insight into the characters. Perhaps that’s another consequence of a plot that kept generating new strands well into the final reel.

If you are concerned with sequels affecting the way you view their predecessors, 2049 certainly does cast new light on what Gaff can have meant by “but then, who does?”. Knowing what happened after the lift doors closed will certainly influence the way I look at that scene in future.

But Blade Runner 2049 is a fine film in its own right; not, perhaps, in the same class as its predecessor, but it too demands repeated viewings to unpack it fully. That, I think, will continue to be a pleasure…

 You should watch it if…

  • You’re a human.
  • If you’re a replicant.

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You daren’t risk the perfection of the original becoming even very very slightly sullied.

Up next: Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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