The music in Blade Runner 2049 hits you like a damn truck. You can totally feel Hans Zimmer’s influence in the extended “BWAAAAMS,” but there’s a sci-fi style that feels true to the original. There’s a definite Mass Effect vibe in some of the quieter moments. It has these great techno grunge synths that are used throughout — especially in the moments where director Denis Villeneuve plays with static camerawork and stillness.
Ryan Gosling’s K actually doesn’t speak all that often in the film, instead relying on his subtle facial expressions, lighting, and camera filters to set the mood. In the city, everything is wet and dark, with pervasive neons that establish the fakeness of this reality. In the farmland, there’s a softer blue-grey, with constant particles in the air and a sense that new life might still be able to exist. Later in the film, K visits an abandoned part of the city that’s considered off-limits, and it could just as easily be set on Mars. Everything is dusty and red-orange and still. Basically, Blade Runner 2049 looks and sounds rad as hell.
For me, the story was less interesting than the superficial elements of the film, but there’s enough going on to keep you interested. And, to be fair, this is a sci-fi film, so a fair amount of “style over substance” is alright in my eyes.
Tell me if you’ve heard this before, but K is a blade runner that tracks down older units for “retirement,” AKA death. Without spoiling things, he stumbles across somewhat of a conspiracy around the androids that calls into question whether or not they should have more traditional human rights. It’s an interesting setup, and the movie does a great job of keeping you guessing as to what’s going on and what peoples’ motivations are.
The least successful piece of this is the villain, played by a Jared Leto hot off his less-than-awesome performance as Joker in Suicide Squad. He’s pretty bad in this one, too. Ironically enough, he reminds me of Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v Superman, where it comes across as him trying to just be as weird as possible instead of creating an actual human being with justifiable thoughts and emotions. He has this bizarre intonation to his line delivery that reads as false. It’s bad acting.
The rest of the cast mostly fares better. Gosling’s performance is subtle, but he carries the weight of everything that’s happening quite well and nails the few moments where K gets to break out in some larger emotional moments. He also has fantastic chemistry with actress Ana de Armas, who plays Joi — a virtual, customizable girlfriend. She doesn’t get much to do, but she sells the confused and conflicted nature of her character, someone that isn’t “alive” in the traditional sense, but can think and feel emotions. K and Joi have a pretty phenomenal arc in the film.
Blade Runner 2049 also contains probably the coolest “sex scene” I’ve ever seen between K, Joi, and prostitute Marietta (Mackenzie Davis). It’s sexy, confusing, depressing, and more than a little frightening. Major props go to the folks involved in putting that one together — I can’t imagine it was easy to shoot or edit.
I also love how the story unravels. I went through a big part of the film assuming I knew what the twist would be, then K comes to the same conclusion, and then that’s thrown out the window. It’s a good bait and switch. The climactic fight felt a bit underwhelming to me. It drags out, and while intense, there aren’t any huge surprises. And while you get a resolution for certain characters, there are other pieces that seem set up for a sequel. I just don’t know what a Blade Runner 2049 sequel would even look like. But those are small things.
The movie is long, and it feels long. It’s a slow burn type of experience — things build slowly and there are plenty of minutes long sequences of just environments or a ship flying through the night. That style isn’t for everyone, but the world building in 2049 is so good that I wanted to see even more of it.
I wouldn’t say that knowledge of the original Blade Runner is absolutely necessary to enjoy 2049, but it definitely helps. I saw the original for the first time around 15 years ago and then watched it again a few years back, so I wouldn’t consider myself a superfan. I didn’t have any trouble following the actual plot, but some of the larger meaning was a bit lost on me — especially when it pertains to Harrison Ford’s returning character, Deckard.
Deckard is actually in the film less than the trailers would have you believe, which doesn’t surprise me. This movie isn’t about him. There are many connections to the original, and certainly the technological and social status quo build on the first film. But where the first movie was more about if the androids were still people, 2049 takes it to the next step and asks questions about what kind of people the androids are — the lives they can lead, the things they can do, the rights they deserve. Not only is Blade Runner 2049 a cool-ass sci-fi film, but it asks questions that our society may be asking in a few decades.