Well, although I wrote a rambling, in-depth “first impressions” article about “Blade Runner 2049” after seeing it at the cinema last October, I’ve now got a DVD copy of it (as something of a belated Christmas present). So, as promised in the “first impressions” article, here’s a full review. However, it’s more of a general review than an in-depth essay.
Annoyingly, although a special edition of the DVD was apparently available for pre-order on Amazon before Christmas, this planned special edition DVD release was cancelled before the film’s home video release.
Still, the “standard” DVD edition of the film isn’t exactly a ‘bare bones’ release, since it also contains all three short prequel films and a few short featurettes about the “world” of the show. Even so, it would have been nice if they’d released the special edition DVD they’d planned to release.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blade Runner 2049”. This review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.
“Blade Runner 2049” is the 2017 sequel to the 1982 cyberpunk masterpiece “Blade Runner“.
Set thirty years after the events of that film, this film focuses on Officer K – a replicant (a human-like clone/android) police officer in a futuristic version of Los Angeles who has been tasked with locating and killing rogue replicants who went underground after a terrorist attack in 2022 wiped all records of their existence.
After he tracks one of these replicants (Sapper Morton) to a protein farm outside the city, they begin a fight to the death. However, once Officer K gets the upper hand, Morton makes a cryptic remark about how Officer K is only comfortable with doing humanity’s dirty work because he has never witnessed a miracle.
Puzzled, Officer K shoots Morton before returning to his car to send a video report to police headquarters. Yet, Morton’s comment still lingers in his mind. And, after noticing a flower beside a nearby tree, he dispatches a drone to scan underneath the tree. To his surprise, a chest has been buried there. The chest contains a skeleton. But, upon further examination, it turns out that this is no ordinary skeleton…..
One of the first things that I will say about “Blade Runner 2049” is that it is one of the best modern films that I’ve seen. It’s intelligent, visually complex, sensibly paced, it respects the audience’s intelligence and it is very well-written. However, after re-watching it, I found that I slightly prefer the original “Blade Runner” to the sequel. Even so, if you’re a fan of that film, then the sequel is well worth watching (if you haven’t seen it already).
In terms of the film’s story, it tells a reasonably complex (but direct) story which is thematically consistent with the original film and also resolves some of that film’s loose ends too. This film’s story will require you to pay attention, but it isn’t too confusing.
Although the film tells a reasonably complete story with a satisfying emotional payoff, a few things are left unresolved for different reasons. The sub-plot about the replicant resistance is left slightly open, presumably in case there’s ever another sequel (although this unfortunately seems unlikely, given the box office for this film). And, of course, the question about whether Deckard is a replicant is, in keeping with tradition, left tantalisingly unresolved.
However, as brilliant as the film’s story is, it leans towards grand, large-scale drama. Although this isn’t an inherently bad thing, it means that the film lacks some of the atmosphere and vivid intensity of the much smaller-scale drama of the original “Blade Runner” film.
In terms of the film’s pacing, I really liked it, but it is something of an acquired taste. In contrast to typical hyper-fast modern movies, this film tells it’s story in a slightly more contemplative and slower-paced way that is more like a well-written TV mini series or a good novel.
Personally, I feel that this helps to add depth and humanity to the film, whilst being in keeping with the fact that the film is an intelligent cyberpunk detective thriller movie. However, if you’re used to modern superhero movies etc.. you’ll probably find this film to be “too slow” or “boring” or whatever.
In terms of characters, this film is reasonably good. Not only do we get to see a few familiar faces (eg: Deckard, Gaff, Rachel etc..), but the film’s new characters are fairly good too.
By making the main character (Officer K) a replicant, the film can explore the theme of what it is to be human. Although Officer K is presented as a fairly human character (who is treated like a second-class citizen by some humans), his replicant nature is noticeable through his slightly emotionless and mildly upbeat demeanour (this is different to the typical world-weary protagonists in the film noir genre). Yet, he is also often presented as a somewhat lonely figure, which is in keeping with the film noir genre.
Interestingly, he falls in love with a companion hologram called Joi. And this is where the film also explores what it means to be human. Although Joi displays something of a personality, it is implied that she has been programmed to please whoever has bought her. This is shown by the fact that she initially appears to be some kind of 1950s-style Stepford Wife character. But, as the story progresses, she becomes more like the kind of intelligent, courageous side-kick that Officer K needs during stressful/complex situations.
In addition to this, Deckard also makes a return too. However, the years have not been kind to him and he has turned into a grumpy, bitter old man. This character evolution fits in perfectly with the events between the two films and it really helps to emphasise how much time has passed between the films.
The film’s villains (and, yes, there’s much less moral ambiguity in this film than in the original “Blade Runner” 😦) are something of a mixed bag. The main villain, Niander Wallace, is only seen during a couple of scenes and he comes across as a bit of a cartoonish sociopath character.
However, his replicant henchwoman (Luv) is a slightly more interesting character. Although Luv is a merciless killer, she comes across as a more complex and unsettling character (than Wallace) due to her fanatical devotion to Wallace.
This taps into one of the film’s themes, namely that of authority, devotion, servitude and slavery. Officer K has been manufactured to serve the LAPD (despite some cops despising him for being a replicant), yet he rebels against them… because he has been designed to investigate things. It is implied that he is paid for his work, but he is sometimes treated more like a machine than a person.
Likewise, there are a lot of parallels between Joi and Luv. Joi is designed to be devoted enough to die for Officer K, and Luv is designed to be devoted enough to Wallace to kill for him. Both characters show devotion taken to creepy extremes (in addition to emphasising the dystopian gender politics of the film’s dystopian world).
In addition to all of this, Wallace also gives a rather ominous speech in support of slavery. Yet, in a scene where he cruelly murders a “defective” prototype replicant, it is shown than even he is a slave to his own twisted sense of perfectionism. The only “free” character in this film is Deckard, who has lived most of his depressing life in hiding.
Yet, whilst the film covers many of the themes explored in the original “Blade Runner”, I didn’t really notice many more when I re-watched it. When you re-watch the original “Blade Runner”, you almost always notice something new (thematically, visually etc..). Yet, to my surprise, I didn’t really get this when I re-watched “Blade Runner 2049”. It was still as good as I remembered, but there didn’t really seem to be as many hidden depths to it as I had thought there might have been when I wrote my “first impressions” article.
In terms of set design and lighting, this film is really good. It contains a lot of the beautifully gloomy, neon-lit, dystopian cyberpunk locations that you would expect from a “Blade Runner” film, but it also has it’s own distinctive visual style too. Likewise, although the lighting occasionally includes the obligatory modern blue/orange colour scheme (like on the DVD cover), it also includes other colour schemes too.
For this most part, this change works well. However, just like how the grand sweeping drama of the film lacks some of the intimacy of the small-scale storytelling of the original film, the set design here is often missing one of the key components of the original “Blade Runner”. I am, of course, talking about visual complexity.
Yes, there are lots of sweeping cityscapes, grim wastelands and “realistic” interior locations – but the film often lacks the beautifully complex, chaotic messiness of the original film. In the original “Blade Runner”, you will always notice some new visual detail whenever you rewatch it because the set designs are so visually complex. On the other hand, this isn’t really the case with “Blade Runner 2049”. Even so, it is still one of the best-looking films made within the past decade or two.
All in all, this is a brilliant film which shows that good, intelligent, complex films can still be made these days. Yes, it isn’t quite as good as the original “Blade Runner”, but this is only because it is impossible to surpass perfection. But, taken on it’s own merits, this film is one of the best films that I’ve seen in quite a while.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.