Blade runner 2049 starts off with a bang (literally, a character has his head pounded into a wall), but can a sequel to a masterpiece ever be as good as its predecessor.
No, no it cannot. It is pretty good for what it is, but Hollywood right now is like an aging mob housewife, and this film has too much Botox in it.
However, it does have its strong points and much like the original, Blade Runner 2049 as a standalone film is as relevant to 2017 as the original was to 1982.
But before I get to the good, I must first get the bad out of the way:
Unlike my bittersweet disappointment when I found out that the original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott had stepped aside (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are mediocre prequels at best) I was actually glad when news had spread that Jóhann Jóhannsson (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) had been replaced with the great Hanz Zimmer (Gladiator, Pirates of The Caribbean, Inception.)
The original “Blade Runner” soundtrack is one of my all-time favorites with every song a hit. The mood and motifs established by Vangelis are just as powerful as the set pieces, the dialogue, the acting, and the cinematography.
So naturally I was excited to see Hanz Zimmer pulled onboard because I assumed that it meant the director was asking for greatness.
Instead we are given a tonally bland background noise which succeeds in setting the mood, but lacks anything memorable to take home once the credits roll. With that said however, the crescendos are still very powerful and the music works with the film.
The second half of the movie, unfortunately, has more in common with the music.
There’s a ten-minute fight scene between two firmly morally established characters, which lacks the suspense of the first movie because the outcome is predictable. The scene works, it is entertaining but just because something works doesn’t mean it should exist. To quote K’s boss here, “Am I the only one that sees the sunrise, this breaks the…” movie!
I think my biggest criticism of this film comes from elements such as these. The first half of the film had the audience constantly asking questions about what makes a person human? —what makes a human morally good? —the second half has us asking what makes a film good?
Now that I got that criticism out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
The film, not surprisingly is visually stunning and worth experiencing in a theatrical setting. But you’ve heard that said in every other review. Let’s skip straight to the themes.
To quote one replicant character, “Better than human” is what the film has to say about its’ disenfranchised replicants.
Replicants are androids, many older models have human qualities and are being hunted by bounty hunters known as Blade Runners.
The film slowly builds on this “better than human” theme by gradually revealing the humanity in its’ replicant protagonist K, played by Ryan Gosling.
Gosling is subtle, a tiny smile during a crucial scene reveal’s how K’s feelings contrast with his human counterpoints—the right line delivered can show how K holds back his feelings because of his guilt for not being human. Other times the dialogue reveals K’s strength for empathy, he is “better than human” in his ability to read people.
In contrast to Gosling’s subtlety, this film holds nothing back to portray the evil in its’ human subjects. Whether it’s cops and neighbors throwing slurs at K calling him a skin job, or the anti-replicant commentary from Wood Harris (of Remember The Titans fame) who arbitrarily appears for one scene and one scene only to bad mouth replicants. (I wonder who’s going to be the bad guy in the sequel?)
K’s boss, Lt. Joshi, (Robin Wright) a human, cares more about holding together the fabrics of an unraveling rivalry between replicant sympathy and human bigotry than she does about doing what K believes is right. At one point she asks K, “You telling me no?” and because he’s a replicant, he responds, “I wasn’t aware I had a choice.”
Wright’s character is tragic, she exists in a disillusioned state, often she speaks in platitudes, with big far reaching metaphors. She herself is constantly trying to justify why she does what she does. She’s out of touch with what makes her human, beat down by her job; the film shows that the replicants being hunted are mostly harmless and seek normal lives.
Lt. Joshi and the Blade Runners represents a modern police force and justice system still targeting minorities.
The film tackles many relevant issues such as this, and it does so in a way that is both profound and refreshing—especially in a Hollywood that seems to have forgotten that a B movie with A movie actors is still a B movie. (Looking at you Geostorm, and The Snowman—a serious thriller whose killer is called the snowman killer…)
This film scrutinizes today’s issues with disenfranchised groups and relates to those fighting for gender, race, and sexuality—asking questions like, Is someone born different, less human?
It also leaves the audience wondering who the real enemy is. Arguably, it’s the corporations, originally creating replicants to be like humans, but also as man’s slave.
This movie explores how corporations brand people based on usefulness. Blade Runner 2049 is a commentary on a modern wage slave society. Was man born to work?
The CEO of the replicant corporation is the eerily portrayed Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) He is the megalomaniac figure, with milky eyes like that of a snake about to shed its’ skin.
His intent is to manufacture enough replicants to spread throughout the galaxy. However, the new process would create replicants that are arguably human.
This movie is a modern parable. Many people in other countries are born into the exact conditions that the CEO Wallace would subject the replicants to.
At one point the protagonist walks through a child sweatshop and in the pursuit of his humanity as a disenfranchised person, completely disregards what is going on other than to use it as leverage for information.
That really hurts, it speaks to a modern society where we as Americans know about the atrocious living condition of other countries but have to live on knowing we can’t fix it.
This is a post-modern film, with morally relative conjecture that accurately reflects modern living conditions. Lt. Joshi puts it best when she says, “The world is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there is no wall, you’ve bought a war.”
Can people be born on the better side of that wall, and do they deserve it?
This question rings true in an America still divided by issues of race, class, and sexuality, those at the bottom struggle to get affordable wages, with an arguably broken health care system, and an increasingly irrelevant political class divide.
We are struggling against amoral corporate entities controlling and lobbying the government, for necessary things in life. Like the safety and comfort of knowing that if we get sick, and we have the medicine, we will be treated.
All the while behind our concerns within America, outside of this country people are born into modern corporate slavery.
Blade Runner 2049. Go read another review if you want to hear about whether or not it was good. I’m just here to start a revolution.