Cinematic Releases: More Human Than Human: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) - Reviewed

When Blade Runner first premiered in 1982, it changed the landscape for science fiction films. Though it initially bombed, it was later recognized for its immersive and fully-realized cyberpunk locale and the symbolism embedded in the story. Sequels and reboots are big business in the modern cinematic world, but most of them feel derivative and don't add much to the concepts in the films before them. Luckily, thanks to Denis Villeneuve's deft direction and an intelligent story, Blade Runner 2049 is not only a worthy sequel, it's an expansion and evolution of the mythology and themes.

Taking place thirty years after the events of the first film, the story centers around Agent K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner who works for the LAPD. Like the original, this is mostly a noir detective tale, with many twists and turns along the way. Gosling does a fantastic job, alternating between stoicism and anguish seamlessly and his character arc is multi-layered and intriguing. Robin Wright owns her role as Agent K's superior officer Lieutenant Joshi and she cuts an imposing figure though she has moments of reflection and vulnerability. Jared Leto is appropriately creepy as Niandr Wallace, the blind inventor of the current crop of Replicants.

The ideas of transhumanism and self-actualization still factor heavily into the fabric of the Blade Runner universe and they are deconstructed even further in Blade Runner 2049. Technology doesn't seem to be helping humanity as much as it's just window dressing on the metaphorical prison that they have constructed. Each character is reaching out for some sort of meaning and personal connection in this dusty and grimy world, and they are unable to get fulfillment from the dazzling mirage of neon ghosts. I did find it funny that Sony is prominently displayed on some of the giant holographic ads littering the city because it seems they aren't self-aware enough to realize that corporations are one of the main oppressors in cyberpunk stories--taking advantage of the citizen's need for distraction from the drab lives that corporations both enforce and profit from.

 If I just had my jacket from Drive this wasteland would be SO much cooler. 

Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely gorgeous, with the combination of sprawling Tokyo-inspired city shots and beautiful indoor locales. Whereas the original Blade Runner was a wet and rainy affair, this film is more dusty and snow-covered. Roger Deakins cinematography is fantastic with special attention given to lighting and color-grading. There is a distinct contrast between the cool blues of Los Angeles and the warmer orange hues of the outer areas. This film is a bit "cleaner" looking than the first one but it's also farther in the future so it makes sense. The mixture of low and high tech feels much more organic as well, with flying drones and oversized tech-noir analog machinery sharing the same space.

This is the E.T. scene. Ouch. 

The one weak aspect is unfortunately Hans Zimmer's (with help from Benjamin Wallfisch) musical score. It's trying to sound like Vangelis' masterwork from the first film, but it feels like a lukewarm imitation. This is something that has been plaguing a lot of blockbuster films as of late, it seems like they are always trying to make the music sound similar to other films instead of carving out their own niche. Vangelis did something new and risky with his score, and I wish Zimmer would have experimented more with his. It's not bad, just bland and forgettable.

Blade Runner 2049 is how sequels should be done. It doesn't fall into the trap of mining the original film for lazy nostalgia cues and it forges its own path ahead, enriching the universe with its own touches. 

 --Michelle Kisner