As I walked out of Blade Runner 2049 and performed my usual ritual of looking up at the big screen one last time before I exited the hall, I had to ask myself a couple of questions before framing the review. How influenced was I by the original and its near mythical status? Are the ideas I'm going to be expressing mine alone or were they implanted into me by the many voices in the cinema hall callously throwing their opinions around?
What started with those slowly morphed into me asking some deeper questions of myself. Are any of my ideas or my identity a product of my environment or a product of who I am internally? Can any of us ever really know the answer to that question? And am I going to rate this film higher because it transported me to a state of questioning my humanity/identity or am I rating it higher because it deserves it?
See what good sci-fi does.
To paraphrase Leo Dicaprio in Inception
: Once an idea is introduced, it morphs and builds but can never be wholly eliminated. And to quote V
: Ideas are bulletproof. Blade Runner 2049 is an amalgamation of many such ideas that are bound to create existential crises in those brave enough to wither its slow first half.
Narrating a story while making you ask questions of yourself is director Denis Villeneuve's ambitious follow-up to 1982's Blade Runner. His film begins with Ryan Gosling's K going about his job eliminating obsolete Nexus-8 replicants - the film acknowledges non-fans of the original by explaining basic vernacular such as replicants and Blade Runners - one such replicant is the imposing and engaging Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista).
As a quick synopsis that doesn't ruin much of the film (respecting one of my favourite directors' wishes here): K's altercation with Morton leads him on a trail of discovery. He begins to question his purpose and the true power the old Nexus-8 models possess when not being oppressed by their human masters. Aided by the undying faith of his holographic girlfriend Joi, K sleuths around the desolate landscapes of 2049 Los Angeles aiming to discover his purpose and the specifics of his origin while masquerading these intentions by pretending to comply with his superior's orders of finding and eliminating an anomaly amongst replicants.
While the story itself is extremely engaging owing to every scene and interaction working as an excessive yet carefully crafted piece of a beautiful mosaic, the enduring impact Blade Runner 2049 leaves on you is with the questions it dares to ask while employing you to find your own answers to those questions.
However, my experience with this film is wholly mine. I am not blind to the fact that the film's pacing, akin to those of movies of a bygone era, is bound to put off many a viewer. Neither filmmaker or filmgoer are at fault here as cinema has evolved multiple times since 1982, and a film that chooses to ape its predecessor's futuristic neo-noir styling falls short at the exact same avenue.
As mentioned above, the movie has a wealth of ideas, themes and morals to offer up in exchange for patience. Blade Runner 2049 adds onto the singular thematic conflict of what it means to be human put forth by its predecessor, by deftly navigating between the evils of surrounding yourself by a lonely echo chamber, the beauty of sentience and how once achieved it can never be rolled back, the palpable fear of humans and their penchant for rejecting new avenues of evolution for fear of being replaced, the urge to be a part of a cause while still preserving the need to feel like you're not just a disposable soldier, and so forth, with the highest of ease and care. My thanks go to the writers (the forgotten heroes) for crafting a narrative that never falls like a deck of cards when one plot point is pulled for deeper investigation.
The words however are only as good when those speaking them are bringing their A-game. Ryan Gosling's steely yet pained determination coupled with a rejuvenated child-abandoning Harrison Ford (why do you do this, man - first Star Wars and now this?) are tailor-made for this film. Gosling's desires, outbursts and actions have a bit of the mechanical attached to them, and that there is clever direction as it helps in selling the reality of his conflicts.
Ford's Deckard is infinitely more engaging this time around, but overshadowing both leading men is relative newcomer Ana De Armas as Joi. Playing a much-advanced version of Scarlett Johansson's Samantha in Her, De Armas grounds the film by ironically adding the most humanity to a movie while being the least human character. While Jared Leto is quite interesting in his limited time on screen, his right hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) steals scenes she's in by mirroring K's conflicts by possessing all of the same desires with none of the humanity.
Capturing these conflicts and deeply personal stories is 13-time Oscar-nominated visionary cinematographer who primarily dictates modern cinema's visual language, the incomparable Roger Deakins. Bolstered by the impeccable work of the production design crew, the film's eerie dystopia feels as if it is not quite far away. There is not much I can say here in terms of praise except if Deakins does not win his first Oscar this year for this hypnotically-shot gorgeousness, I will start a riot.
Going hand in hand with the visual spectacle is the score composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The iconic original score by Vangelis is incorporated and improved upon in leaps and bounds by the duo who synthesize unromantic, cold notes of music to mirror the desolate landscape and its characters with calculating precision.
As most of you may have noticed, this review is neither too funny nor is it too high on references to pop culture. Simply put, staggering intelligence like the one presented in this motion picture is what stops me from doing so. It dawns on me that I'm yet to achieve a level of narrative, visual, musical or performing standard with any of my personal works as this film and its crew attain with every frame. All I can do is sit back with quiet admiration while applauding its brilliance, and learning from it.
Denis Villeneuve quite simply goes on with his work by adding another great film to his enviable repertoire. And Philip K Dick is looking down from the heavens above appreciating what his work has led to.
P. S. A book recommendation: please read Ubik; a fantastic allegory to how we perceive God.