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Blade Runner 2049: It’s Definitely Good, but Is It a Masterpiece?

Warning: Spoilers Ahead; 3rd Viewing 

I haven’t checked out Blade Runner 2049 since little high schooler me saw it twice back in theaters, which is most peculiar since I recall deeming its content as some of cinema’s finest. Yet, I have never had the urge to waddle back into this visceral world Villeneuve, Deakins, and partners in crime have sketched and inflated so conceivably—and part of this could be from the stem that I had understood just about everything the film had to say the first time I saw it.

I hear fans often praising in video essays, professional articles, and even L.A. street talk that Villeneuve’s sequel perfectly captures the original’s vibe to a T. This, to me, is one of the most inaccurate statements I have ever heard in regards to the discussion of movies. To be clear, this is to not discredit 2049 in any way—part of its fair quality comes from it being divergent from its predecessor. It should be made explicit though that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Villeneuve’s Blade Runner, are two entirely different beasts; just because they are both “slow-paced” doesn’t make them miraculously one of the same spectrum. 

Blade Runner (1982) was an experimental philosophy statement on the cynical entry and journey of our inescapable death, told in an almost randomized plot order nobody at the time of 1982 could’ve possibly seen coming. The movie takes you on a journey with our lead character, Decker, who ends up not even being the central arc of the movie’s subject matter, and rather hands that over to the imposingly empathetic antagonist, Roy Batty, and maybe even a little of the ever so lonely J.F. Sebastian or Decker’s unconventional love interest Rachael. Blade Runner was meant to be confusing on initial viewings and was meant to counterbalance your expectations of classic character motifs by using Decker as a host for the audience’s guilt and the side characters as sympathetic mind-benders, altering who exactly to feel for and who to not; what to withdraw thematically out of the events and what to make of all the needless violence or bigotry that the project urges to explore. 

2049 is EXTREMELY straightforward. 2049, as simple as it may sound on the surface, is a story about finding purpose. Gosling’s replicant character is audibly the focusable arc of the movie, and Decker and his lost daughter are used as pieces of the past to enhance this new character. The movie, although, features villains who are as trivial and as cryptic as they come—but only because they are here for momentary pizzazz and nothing more. Jared Leto is a puppet master who strokes his ego and philosophy off more than actual Leto himself does. Robin Wright plays a high-ranking boss as she often does in the world of theatrics, but an intentionally brainless one at the convenience of maneuvering K’s journey—yet a blindly loving one at that, if we’re being fair; aww. And, they even have a fierce female replicant (Luv) who is ALSO a purposely unintelligent villain at the convenience of provoking K’s arc. Not to mention, she’s furthermore an unjustifiably competitive and envious robot who has some inexplicable vendetta against K, seeing him almost as a roadblock in her relationship with Wallace—a man who doesn’t even know K personally, but, you know, “failure is fear.” Yet, these characters—the “decoration” among many in 2049—are not the thrust of Villeneuve’s tale; K is. 

JOI (Ana de Armas) and K (Ryan Gosling) are a subtle but telling partnership that emulates practicality unlike anything we’ve ever seen in these futuristic sci-fis that live to tell us a likelihood. At the beginning of the movie, JOI seems to be the only means that can justify Gosling’s existence—the one thing that he loves; the one thing that makes him feel human. Barriers like the Baseline Tests (featured in two of my possible favorite scenes in this entire film), however, are manipulated as almost a dehumanization machine that’s used to make sure replicants are irresponsive to soul-driven questions. However, his robotic circumstances that society pressures him with has made him feel lonely and of little worth—even with his hologram partner around. K wants fulfillment in his life, and this adventure to find a missing miracle just might be what leads him there. This is a coming of age story, disguised as a sci-fi epic. Through uncovering sex, memories, loss, and the possibility of a legitimate lineage, K is learning what it is to be an independent individual, whether or not he is actually the prodigy who he may think he is. 

I hear people consistently praising Deakins’ cinematography in 2049, and while it is beautiful as f***ing beautiful technology and experienced brainpower can grant us with coloring, scope, set/prop design, and special effects (and, not to mention, the best that I’ve possibly ever seen), it can sometimes feel empty. Villeneuve wanted this to be a stylized slow-burn, something where we could sit back, relax, and gaze upon hours of standard yet elongated shots that showed us the ever so futuristic, poverty-shook, sex-driven world of tomorrow, without using much compelling placement to add plenty to K’s actual story. Like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, this is a show-off-y visual extravaganza, a peacock of sorts, yet not one that would want to contribute too much to what the meaningful narrative has to say since it rather rely on poetic but often blatant dialogue/exposition and eccentric acting gigs for those matters. Well, besides that last shot with Gosling in the snow; that was pretty ingenious. I can’t resist the frequent dark/shadow shots in 2049, as well; those were tight. 

I feel confident in deducing that the first two acts of 2049 are genuinely sturdy—even without forgetting its flaws as mentioned previously—and they productively flesh K’s emotional condition out to razor-sharp precision. The final act, unfortunately, tangles this streak into a haphazard knot of dramatic tragedy that is guided by weak plotting and a surplus of incidents. This inferior to the foregoing, third act, uncreatively reveals some frantic secrets while falling into the conventional “f***, we need our hero to do something climatically hefty and blockbuster-ish before we showcase the film’s big reveal, so let’s have him locate himself into a flying car chase and a dramatic one-on-one fight with the underwritten mini-boss Luv in the midst of some PRETTY WAVES. Hans Zimmer can go ‘RIOUWWWWW’ again too!” All of a sudden, a movie that was so keen on taking its time, letting the audience gently breathe in these moments of controversial humanity and futuristic chaos, feels morbidly rushed to a point where we’re schizophrenically introduced to…

A) this secret replicant society that SPIELS a galore of exposition regarding Decker’s daughter while blatantly exclaiming some of the closing motifs of the movie (*you’re not the chosen one, I’m not the chosen one, but we all want to be the chosen one, so we should manually discover our own way to make ourselves a chosen one in a new light to seek self-peace, etc.*) as if the audience couldn’t pick up on it naturally given the situation—a sign of Villeneuve dumbing down the execution for the sake of audience appeal. Furthermore, the only reason why this all occurs in the first place is because they decide to take in K almost immediately (and conveniently) after the enemies decide not to kill him for, again, cryptic antagonistic motives—Luv will, later on, pull this stunt AGAIN at the expense of her very own life. They do kill JOI, however, because they need her death to propel the plot and enhance K’s themes; or, they just really wanted to piss off K to a point where he’d want to take revenge—as if that’s logical on the villains’ end—or so he can gain a self-respect moment where he recognizes that his lover wasn’t authentic (+she’s gone so there’s no turning back!) and that he should fulfill his true purpose…

B) Wallace provoking Decker to find his child by giving him the classic, evil villain, fancy-worded “destiny” speech and confronting him with a refurbished Rachael model that’s inserted for the hardcore fans and used as an immediate plot device to convince Decker into meeting his daughter even after we’ve established at the beginning of this third act that he doesn’t want to see her so she can be kept safe (keep in mind also that Decker ends up doing this while Wallace is still on the hunt for his daughter), then, of course…

C) the standardly written and pressured in showdown that doesn’t care to unfold how K even finds Luv and Decker in the first place, and…

D) the abrupt, quickly assembled resolution used to define Decker and his daughter’s reunion as “K’s grand purpose” before he dies—which would’ve been spectacular if Decker’s reason for reuniting was more fleshed out and if the daughter’s identity wasn’t so amateurishly explained by the secret replicant society. It’s all as if the leisured pacing of the movie had spasmodically forced itself to speed through some of these key considerations of already established plot points just so that K’s arc could be wrapped in a chintzy little bow before we could hit say a “three-hour” mark.

In the thick of it all, nevertheless,  the initial 105 minutes of Villeneuve’s follow-up are still robust and I will have the occasional respect for parts of the director’s concluding yet chaotic 55 minutes—I mean, who doesn’t love hologram Elvis? K’s arc, as rudimentary as it is to fictional evolutions that we’ve endured before, is still beautifully realized, acting out as the clean-slate of 2049’s possible collapse; his “battle for meaning at the cost of everything else” detour is just restrained in a conventional, cyberpunk, adventure plot which uses steady pacing, ornamented dialogue, and last-minute ideas—which many will praise to be ambiguous puzzle pieces that only the “truly dedicated” viewer can comprehend or appreciate—as a means to disguise itself. 

Nevertheless, K is a wonderful reckoning to the Blade Runner universe, Villeneuve’s updated (35+ years, to be precise) universe and technology add-ins are unusually gorgeous enough to hypnotize viewers for hours upon hours of revisits, and the sound design never ceases to make me tremble in submission. 2049 is definitely a good movie, but maybe not the masterpiece in which many are beginning to desperately mark it as in a modern-day atmosphere of subpar sequels that are manufactured at an almost industrial and inhumane rate. It’s another one of those motion pictures in which I can whole-heartedly comprehend both the despisers’ and admirers’ side of the argument. As far as sequels these days go, though, this is definitely still of the better ones. 

More importantly, however, I’m tired of Hollywood treating Ryan Gosling as if he’s the type of fella who can’t get any women—good on him for his diverse range in roles though, but have you seen his face and bod? He’s dated sex dolls (source: Lars and the Real Girl), cars/motorcycles (source: Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines) and now you expect me to believe that only programmed holograms and paid prostitutes want him? Get outta here.

Verdict: B-

Christopher Nolan vs. Denis Villeneuve (Ranked List) 

“Blade Runner 2049” is now available to stream on iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.

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