Hang on. *Grabs my helmet, body armor, and riot shield*
I am not fan of BLADE RUNNER (1982).
It’s true. Despite being a mega lover of sci-fi, the genre’s most celebrated films, such as BLADE RUNNER and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), are my least favorite of them all. In all likelihood, I saw BLADE RUNNER at a time when my brain wasn’t quite ready for something so nuanced and layered. I figured it’d be a grittier and darker Star Wars with lots of action and what have you. Turns out, it’s closer to a sci-fi noir film and I was probably not ready for something like that. I looked at it like THE GODFATHER (1972) of sci-fi films, slow and forgettable. I wish I had the time to revisit the film to see how it holds up with my current tastes, but… day job. What can you do?
The story looks like it’s about a cyborg manufacturer who wants to… I don’t know, take over the world, I assume. But a dude locates the protagonist from the previous film and holds the key to either stopping him, or making things worse. I don’t know, once again, it’s pretty shrouded in mystery.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Ryan Gosling (SONG TO SONG , BLUE VALENTINE , MURDER BY NUMBERS , and the upcoming FIRST MAN ), Ana de Amas (WAR DOGS  and HANDS OF STONE ), and Harrison Ford (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS , INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL , AIR FORCE ONE , and the upcoming untitled Indiana Jones Project ). In support, we have Dave Bautista (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 , SPECTRE , THE SCORPION KING 3: BATTLE FOR REDEMPTION , and upcoming films ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES  and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ), Robin Wright (WONDER WOMAN , UNBREAKABLE , THE PRINCESS BRIDE , and the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE ), Sylvia Hoeks (a bunch of projects I’ve never heard of), Jared Leto (SUICIDE SQUAD , MR. NOBODY , FIGHT CLUB , and rumored to be in upcoming films SUICIDE SQUAD 2  and GOTHAM CITY SIRENS, no release date announced), and Mackenzie Davis (THE MARTIAN , THAT AWKWARD MOMENT , TV show HALT AND CATCH FIRE [2014 – ongoing], and the upcoming TULLY ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Denis Villeneuve, known for ARRIVAL (2016), SICARIO (2015), and PRISONERS (2013). Co-writing the screenplay is Hampton Fancher (BLADE RUNNER) and Michael Green (ALIEN: COVENANT , LOGAN , GREEN LANTERN , and the upcoming MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS ). Co-composing the score are Benjamin Wallfisch (IT , ANNABELLE: CREATION , and LIGHTS OUT ) and the living legend, Hans Zimmer (DUNKIRK , THE SIMPSONS MOVIE , and THE PEACEMAKER ). Finally, the cinematographer is Roger Deakins (HAIL, CAESAR! , JARHEAD , and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION ).
Overall, I’m not sure how to feel about this movie. Early reviews seem to be praising the fuck out of it and declaring it better than the original. Well… since I didn’t like the original all that much, I might not think that’s a very high bar to set. Oh well, in time, I’ll rewatch the original, but for now, I’m going to judge this movie for what it is. And… yeah, it looks atmospheric, like it’s got some decent action, but… just taking a shot in the dark, is Ford going to be a glorified cameo? I don’t know, I just have that feeling.
This is my honest opinion of: BLADE RUNNER 2049
Set thirty years after the events of the first film. Replicant blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling) has successfully hunted down and killed another older model of replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). But buried beneath his farm, K finds a buried box containing the skeletal remains of a woman. But not only that, the woman was a replicant. And not only that either, but she was pregnant, and the child is still out there. K is then tasked by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to hunt down and eliminate this replicant before anyone finds out about it.
Apologies for the delay on this review. I technically saw it opening night, but the film is so intricate and there’s so many layers to peel back that I couldn’t finish writing unless I saw it a second time to full comprehend certain things that I didn’t… well, comprehend. Having now seen it twice, I can finish.
I think while I still need to revisit the original film to get a full and complete understanding of the film presented here, this movie is… pretty damn awesome. I’m not sure if I agree with IMDb’s 8.8/10 (as of 10/6/2017) and find myself leaning more toward RottenTomatoes’ 89% (as of 10/13/2017), but I agree that this film is very much a great film.
Before I go into my opinion, I think I should probably drop a quick disclaimer. Much like the previous film, don’t go in expecting an action film. That’s not the genre. This is a straight-up thriller, but set in a sci-fi genre. I won’t say there aren’t action scenes at all, there are, but they’re pretty far in between. This film is pure atmosphere, visuals, and story. This isn’t a dark and gritty Star Wars with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.
And speaking of Ford, I was kind of right. He’s not exactly a glorified cameo, but out of this two and a half plus hour film, he’s only in the final hour or so.
So with that in mind, here we go.
This is probably the most nuanced sci-fi that I’ve seen in years. Hell, I’m not even sure when I last saw a sci-fi film of this caliber. Eh, okay, ARRIVAL, but outside of Villeneuve’s résumé. Why do I think so highly of it? One perfect example, which probably only scratches at the many layers this film has, is one brief exchange between K and Lt. Joshi.
You’ve been getting along fine without one.
That alone drove me into a tailspin by the end of the film. Any other movie, even other great sci-fi stories, have hammered in this concept of machines having a soul for decades. GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995), TERMINATOR 2 (1991), THE IRON GIANT (1999), the Mass Effect video game franchise, all of them have tackled this subject and each offers its own fascinating and unique perspective. Even in Mass Effect, this question is literally asked by a character, “Does this unit have a soul?” Most movies ask the question and spend the film offering an answer. Some do it well, some not so much. But what I think this movie brilliantly does is not bothering to ask anything. Instead, it goes the route of great sci-fi and with Wright’s line, she’s declaring an answer. K’s never had a soul, and the movie is spent offering us evidence to believe otherwise. K is a thinking, feeling person. Yeah, he’s by his very nature, a machine, but he’s exhibited just as many human qualities as, well, any human has. He has compassion, shows fear, gets angry, gets sad, human emotion.
And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about K. This is a masterfully written character and… well, I’ll talk about Gosling’s performance in a bit, but first thing’s first. K is about as perfectly a written type of character like this that can be written. I have a hard time admitting it to myself, Gosling has a tendency to be a little wooden in his facial expressions. But his performances are usually nuanced enough and, depending on the role, he’s just charming enough to work past that. But here, it works perfectly. He’s a machine who seems to have found his own spot in the world. However, that spot isn’t exactly any kind of paradise. He lives in this run down apartment building filled with humans who are extremely intolerant of replicants. They shout obscenities at him and the front door to his room is spray painted with “Fuck you, skin job,” or something to that effect. It’s impossible to tell if he’s unaffected by the names and harassment, or only a little. Gosling’s performance is so subtle that you can probably look at his expressions and come up with your own conclusions.
Once he’s in his room, though, the world outside is dead quiet and it’s here where he’s free. He does what he wants, simple as his choices may be. But what I found fascinating was this relationship that he has with Joi (Ana de Armas). Joi is a kind of computer holographic companion, probably designed for sexual purposes, but K treats her like a girlfriend. He doesn’t talk to her like he owns her, or in any way that would demean her. In fact, our first scene with them is him giving her a gift. Some kind of portable device that allows him to bring her with him wherever he goes, giving her holographic form some… solidity, if that’s a way I can use that word. Basically, she can walk outside in the rain and where normally the rain would pass right through her, now it kind of bounces off of her, runs down her body, and… I guess her hair and clothes get wet, yeah, I think there’s some technological discrepancies that the movie didn’t take into account, but there is some kind of emotional weight to this. It’s… also pretty obvious that at some point, Joi’s going to go with K on his quest, but then again, the movie intelligently doesn’t make this some kind of twist and joins him pretty early on. It’s a really fascinating relationship that they share and I loved watching them interact with each other without ever feeling like it’s distracting from the story. That’s really hard to pull off too.
And yes, Ford is back in his usual gruff self, and just like K, he’s just as nuanced and subtle. You see a man who has been through a lot in the last thirty years and wants to be left alone. Because of his time away from civilization, it’s clear that he’s not good at talking to people aside from his most base instinct responses. But you understand why he is the way he is. Blade Runners hunted down replicants like crazy and he needed to protect his wife and unborn child, whom he’s never met. Anyone can understand how that’d give a person some rough, even violent edges.
If there’s anything else that I have to praise this movie for, it’s in the way that every time I think I found a flaw in the film, it makes me think about and then it doesn’t become a flaw anymore. I was about to say that I wasn’t entirely sure why a replicant born child would cause a war. I generally like to think that I’m not awful with the interpretations of ambiguous motivations and morals, but this one felt like it was shoehorned in to add some stakes that probably didn’t need to be added. But then I gave it a second thought. Then I realized, what do I know about this world? Replicants are not well-liked. In fact, it’s not dissimilar to the world of X-Men, mutants feared and hated because they were born different. The average person probably sees replicants as machines parading around like humans, are given basic rights like humans, but at the end of the day, aren’t humans. They take jobs, ones that include brandishing a firearm, own property, be it a home or a vehicle, I can definitely see how controversial their existence would be. And for there to be a baby out there, a replicant, started off as a fetus and pushed out of the vagina, like a human, there’s way too many fires that would be lit under too many asses. Machines aren’t people, so how can they procreate? What does that mean for humans? Will humans become obsolete? Are the parents both replicants? Is only one of them? Can humans and machines procreate? Can they experience sex and or romance together? Notice how many questions I’m coming up with and the movie, I think, purposely doesn’t answer them because this is that kind of world.
But for how much I could sing about this film’s praise, I do have one complaint… but I don’t know how to vocalize it, and it all centers around Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Okay, I think I get his motivations. His replicants are instrumental in colonizing the other planets in the solar system. I would very much love to know how he managed to colonize Mercury and Venus, which are crazy close to the sun, and Jupiter and Saturn, which are gas giants, but that’s beside the point. Thing is, Earth is in the shitter, and he’s dedicated his resources to helping Earth, meaning his abundant, but still limited resources are about as stretched out as they can get. The nine planets that have been colonized aren’t enough. I love his line that goes something like, “A child can count to nine on both hands.” He wants humanity to venture further out, believing the stars should be conquered. But due to a lack of resources to make that many replicants, he needs an alternate method of creating them. He’s tried to breed them, but has constantly failed. In comes his proclaimed “best angel of all,” Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) with evidence from the LAPD that an older replicant model got preggers. Now he wants that baby to understand how it happened and duplicate it for future models and get that surplus of replicants that he wants. All of that, I perfectly understand. Capture Deckard, torture him for information on those who helped hide his baby, all of that makes perfect sense.
With that said, I find myself grossly disconnected with his character. There’s nothing wrong with Leto’s performance. Hell, he can get a little creepy with the way he stares at people through his little floating robot things. But there’s still something about Wallace that I just don’t click with and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because we don’t see enough of him. How can I identify with his desires if I don’t know what he’s like as a person? How can I see the broad scope of his vision if all he does is talk about it? It’s not like we ever see the other planets that have been colonized, or the hard work that the replicants are doing on those worlds. There also seems to be a little bit of inconsistency with his character. For much of his scenes, he calls his replicants “angels.” Weird, but I guess we expect that from a character played by Leto, making his creations feel like the work of the gods, painting himself as a god by extension. But we see him kill at least two of his own “angels” and later calls them his children. Well… what kind of father would kill his own children? I can see a vengeful god blasting his angels into oblivion if they don’t live up to his vision of perfection, but he never acts like a father figure. To any of them, so that line feels awkward. Perhaps that’s one of the other reasons why I feel so “blah” when it comes to him. He’s so… pretentious. I’m sure that was intentional when writing him, but we never truly see him do anything other than acting like a man among men and I just don’t see where he’s coming from. If he’s supposed to serve as more of entity to be feared, then his looming presence should feel more threatening. I am not threatened by Wallace. If he’s supposed to be just a man who’s trying to advance humanity forward, then that doesn’t work either because he neither conducts himself, nor do we get to know him as a man.
But really, if I take a good step back and look at the whole picture, as opposed to this one… discoloration that I really had to look for, Wallace is such a minuscule character with very little impact. The story is engaging, the characters are compelling, the writing is fantastic, the cinematography, yes, I am commenting on the cinematography by Roger Deakins, is gorgeous, the ideas are thought-provoking, the visual effects are breath-taking, ladies and gentlemen, this is truly a masterwork that needs to be experienced.
I want to give a personal shout out here. Villeneuve may not have been in the directing scene for very long, but the man has incredible talent for it, especially in the realm of sci-fi. Already, he’d won folks over with films like PRISONERS and SICARIO. While I really liked PRISONERS, and I thought SICARIO was just okay, I wasn’t won over until ARRIVAL. He is now officially that name that will immediately guarantee my ass in a seat for any and all future projects, especially if he tackles sci-fi again.
If it isn’t obvious enough, I recommend everyone to see this flick. As in, drop what you’re doing and make time to see it. It’s a film of a caliber that we won’t likely get again for a long time… unless Villeneuve keeps doing sci-fi. In which case, all we have to do is wait for his next big project and see what he does with it. I’ve seen it twice now, I would love to see it again, and I can’t wait to own it on Blu-Ray.
My honest rating for BLADE RUNNER 2049: 5/5