On October 3, 2017, Warner Bros. Pictures released Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, and directed by Denis Villeneuve. The contemporary noir film was a sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, and was generally welcomed with positive reviews, though its box office run was a disappointing $259 million worldwide. It’s only been a year, but the film has already been acclaimed as Villeneuve’s magnum opus, and many fans have described their viewing experience as a visual, transcendental love letter to filmmaking and lovers of film.
In the first sequence of BR2049, the audience sees the gradual opening of a green eye. It’s as if Villeneuve is saying “what you are about to witness will be eye-opening.” And enlightening is Blade Runner 2049, indeed. It’s truly ironic because Villenueve’s specific and precise storytelling is incongruous with its very prevalent themes of introspection and reflection of humanism… But it’s a testament to the poetic and cinematic brilliance that is presented throughout the film in those philosophical moments. What does it mean to be human, after all? Is it being able to feel, to reproduce, to love? The foundation of these inquiries is manifested by the characters’ intuition(s), being and the idea of the possession of a soul.
The story centers around Agent K (Ryan Gosling), a loyal and obedient LAPD blade runner, who’s on a mission to uncover a long-buried truth about replicants and their capabilities, and to ensure that this secret would never become public knowledge. Agent K’s discovery eventually leads him to Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
In a time in which the production of sequels and remakes have been pushed to the forefront in Hollywood, Denis Villeneuve created the ultimate follow-up to an already well-acclaimed film. But Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t just any sequel, it was the inventive continuation and masterful reflection of its predecessor’s themes, among others, that make it the masterpiece that it is.
What’s so groundbreaking about Villenueve’s BR2049 is not only the director’s detailed, technical achievements or visually stunning frames, but it is his ability to build off and revive the dystopian world that was disclosed 35 years ago. The brilliance in it stems from the discernible homage to the world-building while expanding upon the established aesthetic of Blade Runner. It’s the perfect blend of ‘old and new’ as darker shadows and colors are used to match grim ambiances while bold, kaleidoscopic ones are used to contrast the characters’ struggles. And as a result, 2049 is able to exist both as a masterful sequel and/or stand-alone film in the universe, which showcases Villenueve’s massive skill as a storyteller and further validates him as one of the best visionaries of our generation.
One of the greatest aspects of 2049 is that under its unfolding mystery (Agent K’s investigation), deep within the presented characters lies the inherent dissection of existence and humanism. “To be born is to have a soul, I guess,” says Agent K, as the idea of terminating a human-replicant hybrid causes him to question his own being. It’s such a simple yet profound statement that says so much about humans playing God, which opens up the door to many of the film’s other themes including the enslaved evolving to equals and the balanced world becoming chaotic… All of these explored themes lead to a final product that is a rich and intimate reflection of humanity thanks to Villeneuve’s visceral decision making.
The film’s emotional centerpiece isn’t revealed until over two hours into the film; and its disclosure was masterful in every way possible. For one, most of the film is shown from Agent K’s perspective as he is the lead investigator on the mission. Thus, the audience is led down the path towards believing that he is the half human, half replicant child especially due to the memory flashbacks presented. But once the truth is revealed, it is so honest, pure, raw, captivating & unforeseen, once again proving that Villeneuve’s meditative and methodical storytelling is effective for such an emotional and contemplative body of work.
Another immediate parallel to Blade Runner that fans of 2049 would have observed by now is the moody guise of all of the characters. This detail is just another added piece of flair to the film overall. For instance, Ryan Gosling’s Agent K is emotionless and somewhat cold despite the fact that he’s on a journey of self-discovery, which directly impedes with his mission to terminate the hybrid child. Gosling’s portrayal of such inner turmoil is impressive, and the contrasting effect of his character’s introspective confusion with his ties to duty made every action and reaction that much more intriguing. Furthermore, Ryan’s on-screen presence accompanied by Harrison Ford’s reprisal of his role (Rick Deckard) and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv provide a series of show-stopping sequences that are compelling and exhilarating, and they collectively contribute to the film’s excellence.
If there’s one thing that’s certain about BR2049, whether people enjoyed the film as a whole or not, it’s the inimitable cinematography by Roger Deakins and the hauntingly gratifying score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. In fact, Deakins went on to take home the Oscar for Best Cinematography at the 90th Academy Awards, and deservedly so. The design of every scene was among some of Deakins’ best work, leading to strikingly picturesque stills that are reminiscent of awe-inspiring art at museums. Every frame paired with the gorgeous visual effects elevates the film’s quality. Additionally, the soothing, colorful imagery with the pensive storytelling structure and the glorious sounds of melancholy makes for a serene yet exciting watching experience.
Overall, Dennis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is an enriching, beautifully-crafted, and thought-provoking body of work. This breathtaking masterpiece is a sequel that deserves its existence due to its ability to expand upon its predecessor’s themes and take them to new heights. Rich with introspection and philosophical inquisition, BR2049 takes the audience on an ethereal ride of emotion that is rooted within the characters and their actions. And in the end, this cinematic love letter to film fans will be a treat not only visually, but technically, musically and emotionally as well.