Blade Runner 2049 review: K is for Kino

The only complaint I have with this movie is it’s marketing. They totally missed out on the opportunity to release a “Blade Runner 2048” promotional game. Oh well.

 

Premise

 

In a world where human-like androids called “replicants” have been manufactured to work in space colonies, individuals known as “blade runners” hunt down rogue ones that have come down to earth.

 

Plot

 

(Spoilers ahead, but this movie was absolutely fantastic so I’d recommend watching it before reading this review. Like right the fuck now. I don’t care what time it is. Get your ass to the theater. Why are you still here? GO!)

 

Before I get into the events of 2049, I just want to briefly recap what happened in the original Blade Runner, as well as the animated short Blackout: 2022, because they’re fairly important.

 

Blade Runner: So you don’t actually need to watch 1982’s Blade Runner to understand the sequel, but it might help a bit. Basically Harrison Ford is an unlikable asshole cop named Rick Deckard (or “Reckard” for short), living in 2019 Los Angeles. As a blade runner, he hunts down replicants manufactured by the Tyrell corporation who escape from the “off-world” and go to earth. At one point in the film he meets Tyrell’s assistant, Rachel. Rachel is a replicant who’s been implanted with the memories of Tyrell’s niece. Anyway, Harrison Ford spends the movie doing shitty detective work, yelling at weird steampunk technology, and drinking. After successfully killing ¾ replicants, his ass is saved when the fourth one (guy by the name of Roy Batty), dies abruptly at the end of his four year life span. Given that replicants only live for four years, it sort of begs the question as to why they really need blade runners in the first place. But oh well. Afterwards, Deckard runs away from LA with Rachel. The end.

 

2022: A group of rebellious replicants (or rebelicants, for short), steal an EMP and detonate it over Los Angeles. Simultaneously, two other replicants detonate a truck-bomb at the Tyrell corporation headquarters. Doing this wipes the mutant registry replicant records clean, giving all existing replicants relative freedom. Other details include the manufacture of “Nexus 8” replicant models who have no defined lifespan, and wars at some place called Kalantha? In which a bunch of replicants fought each other and now they all have PTSD. After the so-called “blackout,” the Tyrell corporation is purchased by some dude named Niander Wallace. The end.

 

2049: I’m probably gonna skip over a lot of details because this movie is long af, and it’s been over a week since I watched it when I’m actually writing this review. That being said…

 

Ryan Gosling plays “K,” a blade runner who is also a replicant. K faces a lot of discrimination by others in his city because humans don’t like replicants and also social commentary. At the beginning of the movie, K hits up Sapper Morton, a middle aged man who works on a “protein farm.” Turns out, Morton was a medic who fought in the Kalantha? battles. K tries to take him in, but Morton resists so K shoots him. As he’s leaving, he discovers a box buried near a tree which contains mementos of a child birth.

 

Going back to the police station, K, along with his police chief and some other guy, inspect the materials found and figure out that it contains evidence of a replicant giving birth to a child. This is a big deal for some reason, and Robin Wright gets mad. She tells him to “take care of it.”

 

K goes back to his apartment where he’s greeted by best girl hologram-waifu “Joi,” a french girl who can change outfits really fast. Joi pretends to make him dinner, but doesn’t, because she’s a hologram and can’t actually do anything. K reveals that he bought a laser pointer which lets him project her anywhere. They go outside and stand in the rain for a while.

 

K goes to Wallace’s headquarters, where he meets “Luv,” a replicant who I guess is Wallace’s main assistant. She take him to the archives, where he listens to recordings of conversation between Deckard and Rachael from the first film. After he leaves, Wallace tells Luv to find the replicant baby. She goes to the police headquarters, kills the forensics guy, and steals the case files. How she’s able to do this and walk out is unclear, but I guess the police station is pretty lax on security.

 

K finds some numbers which happen to be identical to those that were carved into a horse toy that appears in one of his memories, although these memories are actually fake memories that have been implanted to make him more human or something. He tracks down a foxconn factory where a bunch of children are digging through scraps, and eventually finds the furnace in which he “remembers” stashing the horse. However, upon digging through the ashes, he discovers that the horse is there after all, leading him to believe that maybe he’s a real boy.

 

Eventually, K tracks down Deckard, who’s living in a Trump Entertainment Resort, or something. They awkwardly fight for a few minutes, before they decide to sit back and crack open a cold one. Luv tracks them down, kidnaps Deckard, and smashes K’s projector, killing Joi in the process. This makes K sad, ironically meaning that K is, in fact, not K.

 

K gets taken in by a group of rebelicants (the ones from 2022), the leader of whom reveals that she helped hide the baby. Meanwhile, Wallace tries to get Deckard to tell him where the child is. After telling him he doesn’t know, Wallace becomes frustrated and tells Luv to take Deckard “off-world.”

 

The ship carrying Deckard and Luv is intercepted by K, who shoots down their convoy, and brings their ship down as well. Luv stabs K before getting back to Deckard, but he follows her back to the ship and drowns her. K rescues Deckard and takes him back to his daughter, a replicant-memory engineer who lives inside a bubble because she has a really weak immune system. K then lays down on some stairs and dies maybe (I like to think he was just making snow angels).

 

Characters

 

The gimmick of the original Blade Runner was the sharp contrast in personalities. While Deckard (supposedly human), acts very stiff and emotionless, the actual replicants in the movie are all really eccentric.

 

2049 opts for more grounded characters. While K, like Deckard, is fairly detached, the rest of the characters in this movie are, too. The police chief, Wallace, Morton, Luv, all the characters are pretty standard. Even Joi is… contained. Ironically, the most emotional character in the movie is probably Deckard, who’s an extremely bitter old man.

I found all the characters to be compelling, and thought their motivations were well-developed. Unlike the first Blade Runner where I didn’t really understand what half the characters actually wanted, in this movie everyone’s goals made perfect sense. Additionally, I didn’t find any of the characters to be unlikable: Luv is a nutcase and Wallace is kind of a dick, but I still enjoyed pretty much all of them.

 

The acting in this movie is also phenomenal. Ryan Gosling’s great, Sylvia Hoeks is great, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, and Jared Leto are all good. And ana de Armas (who played Joi) is fucking fantastic. The most surprising performance of the film was probably Harrison Ford, who’s gone from reboot to reboot in recent years with the same bored expression on his face. In this movie, however, he absolutely nails it, displaying an emotional range that was completely absent from the original. So good job Harrison, I knew you had it in you!

 

Dialogue

 

The dialogue in this movie is also pretty subtle. I enjoyed the fact that the characters all talk casually, as it makes everything feel more realistic. This movie also did a good job of conveying a lot of meaning in very few words. Probably my favorite line in the whole film was when, after Deckard tells Wallace that he doesn’t understand him because he’s never had kids, Wallace replies, “oh, I have millions.”

 

The entire movie is filled with short one-liners that describe whole scenes. When a prostitute who propositions K hears Joi’s signature tone emanating from the projector, she tells him “I see you’re not into real girls.” I enjoyed banter like this because it meant that the movie didn’t feel too much of a need to explain itself; it figured that the audience could piece things together from preceding scenes/visuals, without having to verbally elaborate.

 

Tone

While the first movie had a very clear noir atmosphere, featuring relatively dim lighting and lots of sharp contrast between light (emanating from various advertisements and other in-universe fixtures), and the darkness of the city. 2049 opts for a more generally depressing tone, featuring a much greyer color palette and generally more monotonous shots. This change made the movie feel less stylized and more realistic, offering a vaguely dystopian feel angling towards a more empty area. The movie did a good job of creating a “barren wasteland” type setting, rather than a gritty urban one like the original. Also appreciated was the lack of tonal shifting, as the movie was pretty consistent throughout.

 

Cinematography

 

Roger Deakins, more like Roger DAE-kin we get this man an Oscar already??!11!1!!? But seriously this movie’s shots are rad. We get a lot of the same grand establishing shots that were seen in Blade Runner, but in a manner that’s somewhat more subdued. Deakins does a good job of making the set pieces feel very natural and integrated into 2049’s universe, while the original opted for more spectacle.

 

One thing this movie did very well was the use of lighting, especially when filming characters. There were many times when K would be sitting in a corner somewhere, or walking with his back to the camera, and the lighting would cast him in this shadow so all you’d see is his silhouette. I’m sure this represents something but don’t really want to speculate too much. Maybe it’s because his character is “in the dark” the entire movie cause he doesn’t really know what’s going on? And then in the end when he’s figured everything out  he’s cast in clear lighting? Eh, who cares.

 

Production Design

 

The production design in this movie was gorgeous, and all of the sets fit in really well. Everything, from K’s apartment, to Wallace’s office, had a very distinct esthetic that made it stand out from the rest of the movie. Even K’s car, the same hover-vehicle that we see Deckard using in the original, has a much more rugged look to it, and the exterior is much dirtier than anything from Blade Runner.

 

The movie also takes a similar approach to designing the streets of LA as the original, with a few minor changes. The streets are all quite dark and crowded, with many people bustling around. However, while Blade Runner used fairly narrow streets most of the time, the roads in 2049 seemed wider. Additionally, there was less of an emphasis on the constant rain that was ever-present in the original. Finally, while they kept the theme of lots of Asian culture everywhere (graffiti, stores, people), 2049’s Los Angeles also had a large Russian population, for some reason. ‘Twas weird.

 

Sound

 

The sound in this movie actually kind of surprised me. While the original opted for a combination of techno-y synths and like solo jazz? This movie had a really “industrial” score, like Hans Zimmer decided to replace all the instruments with heavy machinery. This in itself wasn’t horrible, but what I found really odd was the actual use of sound. There would be like an intense ten minute scene with lots of drama/emotion/character development and no score whatsoever, and then there’d be some random shot of a street accompanied by a loud BWOM. Like I’m fine with the BWOMs, but a lot of the time I never really understood why they were used… when they were used? It was alright, I guess. The score also occasionally got very, very loud, but usually this persisted for a few seconds before settling back down.

 

The sound design was great. I especially liked the mixing in a lot of the scenes. For instance, when K is talking to Morton, the sound of a boiling pot in the room sort of overtakes their conservation. I thought this was a cool approach to representing tension, and it made the scene seem more real.

 

Conclusion

 

After directing Arrival, which was one of my favorite films of last year, Denis Villeneuve came back and did it again with Blade Runner 2049. I fully expect this to me in my top 5 movies of the year. It’s a near-perfect science fiction movie, with my only real complaints being a few shots that seemed to drag on for a bit, and a score that I found generally unmemorable. I know that this movie isn’t doing too hot at the box office right now, but I mean, I bought a ticket so… that’s gotta count for something, right? Right? Ri-

 

Good for: Fans of the original, fans of science fiction movies in general,

 

Bad for: Ridley Scott’s ideas

 

Bod R8s: 7.7/8

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