Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★
To follow up one of the most influential science-fiction pictures is no easy feat, but director Denis Villeneuve is able to meet and surpass the best qualities of “Blade Runner.” Notice how movies within the genre often forget that ideas should come first. After all, the goal of sci-fi paves the way for conversations involving humanity’s place in time, on this planet, and beyond. And so many of these films, often standard and disappointing, end up being filled with empty action, generic explosions, and senseless violence—filler masquerading as entertainment. “Blade Runner 2049” shines exactly because it offers a more cerebral experience.
The plot is filled with small but beautiful details best discovered for oneself. Instead, I offer to describe the elements which make the film so enthralling as the hypnotic plot unfolds. Perhaps most noticeable is its use of score—and at times the decision not to use anything but complete silence. We are so used to hearing a signal when an important plot development is about to be revealed. While there are moments when do hear the booming and bone-chilling score, particularly as the camera glides over futuristic lived-in metropolis, take note of instances when K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD, discovers bizarre coincidences that force him to question his own identity.
This strategy works because when there is a close-up, there is no music that distracts from the surprise, terror, and confusion the cop undergoes during a pivotal moment. Although the character is supposed to be professional, calm, and collected, tight facial shots with no distraction allows us appreciate Gosling’s ability to communicate paragraphs only with minuscule changes in his facial expressions. In a way, the picture is not only for the intellectual hoping for philosophical questions but also for the emotionally intelligent.
There is a variety of landscapes shown—from metropolis filled with towers blanketed in mist, communities living amongst garbage, to sun-scorched deserts as far as the eye can see—all of them beautiful in their own way even though some of them may be unappealing. Of course, the story spends most of the time in the dark, brooding, often rainy Los Angeles, but there are plenty of details worth appreciating if one chooses to look closer.
Look in the background and notice extreme fashion; how advertisements are colorful, comedic, and hyperbolic; how looks on people’s faces suggest an overwhelming unhappiness with their existence. In addition, we wonder whether a person we are looking at is a human or replicant, the latter being bioengineered humans who are created to obey at all costs, almost like slaves, yet critical to the former’s survival. And if a person is indeed a replicant, is he or she an older model that must be “retired” by a Blade Runner? The environment is alive and buzzing with energy. Imaginative viewers will not be bored.
“What does it mean to be human?” is perhaps the most important question “Blade Runner 2049” takes from its predecessor and continues to explore. Revelations in the latter half force us not only to consider what the protagonist is going through emotionally and psychologically but also rethink previous scenes presented an hour or two prior. Credit goes to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green for creating material that is smart, rich with implications, and worth exploring, debating over.
Finally, notice how the picture ends. Clearly, there is room for further discoveries and yet we feel in our bones that this chapter is complete. Considerably less elegant films fumble and tend to do one of two things: end before before the journey of the protagonist is complete or shamelessly setting up a sequel without tying up the biggest, most glaring strands. Here is a picture that understands the spirit of sci-fi, what it is and what it can achieve.