All These Moments

Any review of Blade Runner 2049 must mention the jaw-dropping cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins. Deakins, one of the very best cinematographers in the biz who lensed films like The Assassination of Jesse James and Sicario, outdoes himself, and virtually everyone else in his field, here. From the very start of Blade Runner 2049, the look and feeling of this film is overwhelming. The original Blade Runner employed stunning visuals as well, but they’re nothing compared to what Deakins creates here.

I can’t remember another film that so quickly pulls you into its world as this. Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t just engross you, it absorbs you. You are enveloped by its overwhelming, overbearing presence. Deakins and Villeneuve slowly guide the audience through a dizzying world of skyscrapers towering above smoky, neon-lit structures. The first Blade Runner felt claustrophobic – with everything crammed together. Here, the world opens up, and it continues to open up all the way throughout. The script travels beyond futuristic Los Angeles to places beyond, like a Las Vegas awash in a sickly orange light, and a San Diego that’s become a city-wide junkyard.

There are times when the camera tilts up into the sky that you may find yourself feeling faint, as if you’ll fall up into that sky; as if gravity will cease to function properly, and pull you into the world on display here. Don’t be surprised if you come out of the film in a daze.

This isn’t to say Blade Runner 2049 is all spectacle and no story. There is story here, and a surprising amount of emotion. For a film dealing with cold, analytical characters, there’s a beating heart at the center of Blade Runner 2049.

The mystery K uncovers involves a shocking discovery: it seems Rachel gave birth to a child. This very concept has the power to break the world, according to K’s superior. She’s right – if a replicant can suddenly reproduce, the implications are staggering.

Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the creepy inventor whose company produces replicants now (having absorbed the Tyrell Company from the first film) realizes that he’ll never be able to engineer enough replicants to achieve total control over everything. Replicants that can reproduce on their own could very well change this forever, and he wants to find the child that Rachel gave birth to and use it for this benefit. He employs his right-hand woman/replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) the task of finding the child, which she does by tracking K.

Leto is probably the weakest link here. He’s nowhere near as dreary as he was in Suicide Squad, but he’s also clearly the only actor in the film who seems to be Acting with a capital a. I don’t mean he’s the only one trying – I mean he’s the only one who looks like he’s trying too hard. The character is effectively creepy and off-putting, but Leto seems to be working overtime to sell it all. Much more effective is Hoeks, as the murderous Luv. Looking absolutely badass as she gets a manicure while calling in drone strikes, Luv may not be as memorable and iconic a villain as Hauer’s Roy Batty, but she still makes quite an impression.

K, meanwhile, deals with his own issues. Those issues involve his girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), who is another of the film’s unexpected twists. The trailers hinted at this character as K’s love-interest, but she’s not just some simple girlfriend character. She is, in fact, a form of artificial intelligence. A creation meant to pleasure whomever owns her. Think of her as Scarlett Johansson’s AI character from Her, but with a body. That body is a kind of digital projection, which results in some of the film’s most haunting imagery. While Joi seems to be physically there in certain scenes, she’s also translucent in certain lighting. Backlighting will often shine through her, rendering her almost ghostly.  De Armas is fantastic in the role, juggling a part that’s both artificial and human.

There is, of course, something to be said about this character and Blade Runner 2049’s approach to women. Save for Wright’s character and one other which we’ll get to shortly, the women in Blade Runner 2049 are subservient products, created solely with the purpose of pleasing their male counterparts. This is appalling for sure, but I don’t think Blade Runner 2049 wants it to be anything but appalling. This film is, after all, set in a dystopia. It’s not trying to give the implication that anything happening here is ideal.

But the film is also asking tough questions that don’t have clear answers. Yes, Joi is not “real” in a sense, but neither is K. Yes, Joi has been programmed to serve her owner – in this case K. But K has also been programmed to do a job, and he eventually resists this programming to forge his own path. Does Joi also have this ability? Is she perhaps truly sentient and serving her own interests, or is she merely doing exactly what she’s supposed to do? Blade Runner 2049 never gives a clear answer to this, and that will likely frustrate some and inspire a few think pieces. That’s fine! Movies should do that. Movies should be willing to raise difficult questions with answers that you may not like. It’s when we make the mistake of thinking a movie is condoning a less-than-desirable answer that we begin to err.

The relationship between K and Joi leads to one of the film’s most incredible scenes, although again, the politics of the scene are up for question. Unable to physically touch K, Joi hires a replicant prostitute (played by Black Mirror’s Mackenzie Davis) to be her physical stand-in for a night of lovemaking. Joi is able to “sync” with Davis’ character, but during the course of the scene, the two women can be seen switching back and forth, with Davis’ features sometimes appearing on de Armas’ body and vice versa. It’s perhaps the most original sex scene in recent film history, but it will no doubt raise an eyebrow or two. As it should. Again, what makes Blade Runner 2049 so unique is the way it presents these challenging situations and then steps back and lets its audience draw its own conclusions.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer and critic for /Film, and the host of the 21st Century Spielberg podcast. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net