Blade Runner 2049

Creating a worthy sequel to a classic is no easy task — for every The Godfather Part II there’s an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and The Matrix: Reloaded. Nonetheless, director Denis Villeneuve overcomes this challenge with his new film Blade Runner 2049. The original Blade Runner, released in 1982 and directed by Ridley Scott, was a dark, dystopian sci-fi film with a noir twist, and its vast, cyberpunk landscapes would go on to inspire a whole generation of directors and cinematographers. Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful, thought- provoking, and fitting sequel, but also works perfectly as a stand-alone story. Like all great science fiction, this sequel highlights problematic behaviors and structures in our society.

Set in Los Angeles in 2019, the original Blade Runner follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a “blade runner.” Blade runners are police officers that hunt out and assassinate rogue “replicants,” androids used for labor and colonization purposes, that look identical to humans. Replicants aren’t supposed to have emotions, and so to avoid mistakenly killing humans, blade runners administer a test to evoke emotions. Furthermore, false memories are implanted into replicants minds to give them the experiences that real humans have and so the producer of replicants, the “Tyrell Corporation,” can control them more easily. In the 1982 film, Deckard falls in love with a replicant, Rachael, causing him to question his work, his own identity, and what it means to be human.

Blade Runner 2049 continues these themes, and expands from Deckard’s story. It follows a LAPD blade runner named K (Ryan Gosling) whose job is still to hunt down mutinous replicants as well as older models. K, however, is actually a newer model of replicant himself, which was created by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), an ingenious tech CEO with a god complex. The newer models, like K, are aware that they are replicants themselves, and that their memories, which are still inserted for mental stability, are indeed fake. K unearths a secret that sends him searching for Deckard, who has been missing for 30 years.

The gloomy setting builds on the industrial themes of the original movie’s visuals. The bleak cityscape of Los Angeles consists of endless rows of blocky grey buildings, illuminated only by colossal neon three-dimensional advertisements. K’s quest brings him to Las Vegas, a crumbling ghost city perpetually enveloped in a dust cloud. The lighting is a key part of what makes this a cinematographic marvel, with shots switching between stark contrasts: from the mysterious darkness of the ocean to the blinding vibrance of K’s debriefing room. Mist and dust are employed throughout to soften the lighting, creating visual intrigue and emphasizing the melancholy of this dystopian future. The jaw-dropping scenes are improved if you opt to see it in 3D, where it avoids the in-your-face gimmicks of most action films. Instead, the 3D effects are used to create a more defined foreground and background, leading to a sharper, more realistic and immersive experience.

The score, composed by legend Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is also a major contributor to the mind-blowing experience. Rumbling bass and chilling strings create an eerie atmosphere to match the desolate settings that fill the screen. Intimidating industrial tones make the soundtrack feel like a more theatrical version of Kanye West’s album Yeezus.

Gosling, Leto, and Ford are all excellent. Gosling plays K as nearly emotionless, unable to appreciate any part of life. His seeming inability to care about anything parallels the film’s dismal environments, and reveals what one might feel if they knew they only existed to complete a task. As K digs deeper into the mysterious discovery, an internal conflict builds in him as he finds his own identity.

Ford captures everything that he had back in the 1980s — moody charisma and bitter toughness. Leto’s role, while significantly smaller, is a bone-chilling portrayal of a man consumed by his own power.

The plot twists are clever, and completely alter your perceptions of the first half of the movie. The story comments on the potential dangers of technology. K’s girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), is a hologram with artificial intelligence. She is simply a product programmed to fulfill his desires, so sometimes K feels more isolated by spending time with her. In some ways, the technology that is supposed to
satisfy K’s every need makes him appear even more isolated, a reminder of our relationships to our smartphones. Additionally, the constant presence of “Joi” advertisements — nude holograms making sultry promises — is a telling reminder of how we commodify women in today’s culture, a timely point in Hollywood.

Blade Runner 2049 is not an escapist action film. It runs two hours and 44 minutes and requires patience and thought. But with the spectacularly intricate and moody visuals that make it nearly impossible to wrest your eyes away from the screen, an otherworldly sonic accompaniment, and a compelling and twisting plot full of surprises, it is well worth the time.