Blade Runner 2049



This movie is beautiful. The sound design is intense and overwhelming, the music is immersive and subtle, the cinematography is lush and distinctive, and the visual effects are at once awe-inspiring and seamless. The performers are compelling.

I wish that it was in service of something deeper.

Looking at the run-time it seems forty-five minutes too long, but I would have a hard time cutting fifteen. It felt, in the best way, like a big budget tone poem. It evoked the isolation of life in a brutal metropolis with an appreciation of open spaces and interior escape zones. Each scene provides a feeling, as when Ryan Gosling visits San Diego and the oppression of his confusion while digging into the mystery connects to the oppression of the inhabitants connects to the oppression of memory. Other scenes provide a stark contrast, as when stepping from the antiseptic police station to the grimy streets of Los Angeles from the clear belief in purpose to the muddled reality of the real and unreal world.

I hadn’t watched Blade Runner in at least ten years, but I never felt lost or cheated. Its impact is probably greater with a stronger affinity for or knowledge of the first film, but only in a nostalgic sense, and nostalgia means little to me. I’m sure I’m supposed to feel something stronger when characters from the first film show up, but nostalgia does little for me.

Performances are strong throughout. Ryan Gosling shows how to do much with little, implying rather than emoting. Harrison Ford is sullen enough to join Gosling in being understated, not normally a strength of his. Sylvia Hoeks is fantastic as a definition of efficiency. Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, and Carla Juri bring much-needed humanity. Ana de Armas is charming and lively, both a defense and a critique of her character. Jared Leto, who has been previously great (in movies with “Club” in the title), and hammy (“Suicide Squad”), is too much the latter, but that also feels like a problem with a character defined by its tics rather than its emotions.

The time spent setting mood and defining tone were balanced with forward movement on plot, which kept it from dragging, but character motivation felt implied rather than defined. While watching the film, I was drawn into Joe’s story, Luv’s story, and even Joi’s story, but reflecting after, the character’s motivation disappeared in service of the mechanics of moving the story along. Only Joshi and Mariette had relatable motivations, and Mariette is a prostitute, hardly a character given deep thought. I could argue that Joe’s motivation is one of defining one’s place in the world and search for meaning, but I could just as easily point out that he is only driven, as an android, by what he was programmed to do, far from human. This appears to be inspired by the source material, but once answers are provided, it serves to make the questions less valuable.

The best art leaves room for many interpretations of the narrative, so that the viewer can imbue the film with a meaning that can be personal. The beauty and passion was simply in service of plot, wrapped up nicely at the end, leaving very little to chew on besides the visuals. A fireworks display in which power disappears as the colors fade to memory.