We probably don’t deserve Blade Runner 2049. This is a superb, sumptuous piece of captivating sci-fi. Just like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 moves at a leisurely pace. It’s a long film, and so much of it is filled with very little. There are long periods of silence and solitude in amongst a Vangelis-esque soundscape of synths that harks back to the 80s. 2049 isn’t a vision of our future as it stands today, but rather a continuation of the first film’s appraisal of things to come. It’s all block computers, not a smartphone in sight. Los Angeles is still a grim city of dark urban sprawl, where gigantic neon holo-adverts sit among art deco apartment blocks and towering, brutalist municipal buildings.
It is a strange blockbuster: an arthouse rumination on life and death and what it means to be human, but one that just happens to have an enormous budget.
I love its ambiguity, not to mention its reluctance to answer question definitively. Instead, as with the original, 2049 offers snippets and fragments for us to piece together. We are given hints as to the true nature of characters like Officer K; his holographic girlfriend, Joi; the ruthlessly efficient Love; and, of course, Harrison Ford’s returning Rick Deckard. This is a film where the relationship between a skinjob and an AI seems more real than anything humanity might offer. A manufactured entity has an existential crisis and is forced to question everything it has ever ‘known’. It is both allegorical and emotional, looking at humanity’s past as well as its future. It’s pretty bleak.
It’s also bleakly pretty. Every frame of it could be hung on a wall, every shot is rife with purpose and artistry.
I can understand why critics are lauding it as stupendous. I wanted to watch it again immediately upon conclusion. But I can also understand why it’s leaving some audiences (not to mention box offices) cold. The trailers suggested action and agency, and perhaps a little more of Ford than we actually got. Going into the cinema with expectations shaped by the trailer, it’s easy to see why some might be disappointed. As a follow up to Ridley Scott’s messy, sprawling sci-fi noir, though, 2049 is a masterpiece.
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