Blade Runner 2049 – Pulpy Sci-Fi Noir that Breathes Life in Every Frame
Ridley Scott’s 1982 Cult Hit Blade Runner is often credited with a great many introductions. It’s often described as the first mainstream cyberpunk aesthetic put to film. The countless films and media it has influenced on its stylistic grit and fashion alone are many discussions in and of themselves.
Blade Runner’s Cyberpunky Impact
While earlier short stories have touched upon the disparaging slums of the future and painted them as technological outcasts, none imparted a unified vision quite like Blade Runner.
I love hard Sci-Fi, thought provoking films, and I cherish tension and tone. When I watched Blade Runner years back, I recall not enjoying it, much like the early critics and audiences that were exposed to the film in theaters in the early 80s. it wasn’t until much later that it received its Cult Status and respect. I haven’t gone back to explore the movie since feeling disappointed by it many moons back, but I was quite excited about Blade Runner 2049. Not only was it obvious that Gosling, Ford, and Villeneuve were a powerhouse team, but each and every trailer was art in motion.
A Sci-Fi Fever Dream
15 minutes into the movie, I was already in awe. Blade Runner 2049 is, upon first impressions from this Sci-Fi lover, a masterpiece. Straight up, I couldn’t get over the craftsmenship of the film and the attention to detail in every single scene. The movie is RICH.
Running at nearly 3 hours long, there wasn’t a single time that it dragged for me. Not a single feeling of slow pace among the lengthy and prolonged scenes that built on tone and world more than plot advancement. There are abundant scenes that exist purely to craft the world, immerse you in a neon-caked LA cityscape, douse you with ambient and overpowering music, and make you feel.
The film flows from plot development and following a detective lead, noir style, to building a romantic connection between Gosling and his consumer-bought AI girlfriend. As the plot progresses and the lead builds, the next scene adds to the lushness of the world. In a world of so much stimulation, it’s unclear who is human, and what it even means to be human.
I found myself never really sure of the motivations behind each character, whether they were synthetic, self-aware, or the rules they played by. Each scene dropped more hints, more clues, and more strands to follow as to how the world worked. Beyond the already-complex main plot, there were enough side-stories to fill a miniseries that I would gladly watch. And gladly discuss at length.
I love science fiction. I believe that movies have the ability to inspire their audience to achieve greater things and build a world that they may want to see. When it’s a dark sci-fi flick like Blade Runner, it doesn’t even much matter to me that it sours most displays of technological progress with sorrow and pain. Whether it’s a probable human pain or a synthetized and designed pain, the catharsis exists for us and it really should make us question.
The morality of the film is so grayscale that I would be hardpressed to make any claims about who is a villain and who is a hero. Leto’s character commands each moment on-screen and purposefully disturbs with his violent nonchalance… but his achievements fall under the umbrella of beneficence. There is enough interesting shit on screen and in-world in this film that it can provide hours of discussion for those that have a desire to carry on with heavy mental lifting.
And that’s not even the main plot alone, which requires actual focus and attention to parse. Even in the end… our 4 person viewing party talked for over an hour throwing out clues and hints and moments that stood out as evidence to some bewildering theory we thought the movie was casting upon us.This is definitely a movie one should watch twice. And I would very much love to.
The Frames Themselves
This movie is pure eye-candy. If you haven’t peeped the cyberpunk aesthetic before, and the concept of a grimy, striving future appeals to you, you might find this movie to be art in motion. It’s gorgeous in every scene. The shots of hovercars cruising through the city coast you through a woozy simulation of actual flight.
The combat scenes and action feels weighty, brutal, and rude in their disregard for humanity. Whose life has any meaning in this savage world? The replicants are portrayed as relatably human and bizarre, weird, and robotic. Human yet not ever quite human. With this portrayl comes a beauty in the acting. The pain on display. And the movie makes us wallow in it. In every death (and my god, some of these deaths are insanely visceral…. One of the most tense climaxes I’ve ever seen is on display here). In every gutwrenching realization or recognition of mistake, or foolishness that our characters reveal to themselves, there feels like a nuance and contemplation on display that these actors masterfully depict.
Perhaps it’s because of the artistic merit, the tone, the lushness of the world, or the acting itself, but I found myself so much more sentimental of plot development than I do in most movies. The plot isn’t a doomsday scenario, or immediately threatening to this world, but it maintains a sense of weight. And it constantly builds on its sci-fi world by layering scene after scene of thought provoking content.
I’ve long held the opinion that sci-fi has the ability to create intrigue merely through images and world building. Just seeing future tech or a snippet of how society works gets my gears turning and trying to piece together the way this world works. This director’s slower pace in his films tends to lend itself the best to sci-fi and movies with lush world. To movies where the environment is a character itself. Where moments in Villeneuve’s Sicario tense but slow, Blade Runner’s genre crafted much more value in each slow moment. Even his latest effort, Arrival, while sci-fi, isn’t world-building or propelling the lore of the world in most scenes that the aliens aren’t on screen or being analyzed. Blade Runner, however, is generating detail every single second it’s depicting the world because it is so far into the future and so lush ins depictions of the world.
This is the exact reason that while others have claimed this movie felt slow, I found it constantly gripping. Not only is it atmospheric throughout, it’s showing characters or environments that are always interesting to analyze. I had similar experiences while watching Westworld.
What Makes a Masterpiece?
What a lofty question, right? How can one determine quality in a primarily subjective medium? More ways than one… that’s for sure. I look back on this film and ask myself “What could it have done better?” I don’t feel that adding gratuitous nudity, gore, or different dialogue would have aided the core of the film. It stands to reason that there isn’t anything this film needed to amplify the feelings and emotions it already evoked, then maybe it’s approaching perfection? Could it have been shorter? Not for me. Could it have had more plot development? Better acting? More of the “good stuff” that I’ve already called out? I mean, sure, I guess so. But I didn’t find myself yearning for those things, because it so effectively satiated me with its runtime and visual display.
I do believe that it’s hard to identify a masterpiece from a single viewing.
I don’t even know if calling something so lofty serves it much more than simply explaining what makes it great. But you know what? This movie was so exceptional and hit so smoothly on so many cylinders that I think it is damn near perfect for what it was trying to be. So well realized in its own goals that it feels damn near flawless.
And now we’re left with a discourse, and continued discussion of the movie. A discussion that blossoms the values of the film even more. We’re left with a desire to share in this experience. A lingering desire to let this film inspire other filmmakers or inspire the general public to contemplate, appreciate, and THINK. I’m happy leaving that here.
In the face of almost unobtainable expectations due to Blade Runner 2049 being a sequel to a beloved cult classic, it manages to succeed in being a better movie than Blade Runner in almost every way. It’s well-acted, it’s visually stunning, it’s tense and atmospheric, it’s thought-provoking, it’s intense, and has plenty of scenes in a film I’ve never seen. It makes me wonder and dream. It’s a joy to experience. For anyone that has the energy to engage and analyze, ponder and try to piece together this sci-fi film noir, I implore you peep this movie.
Recommended for fans of this genre? Absolutely. Any fan of sci-fi, dramas, thrillers, mysteries, noir, excellent film-making, or thought-provoking spectacle… you should see this movie. If you’ve got the attention and focus to process nearly 3 hours of complex science fiction, love discussing cinema, or want to be moved, fucking peep this jam.
Recommended for non-fans of this genre? No. I don’t believe that every exceptional film is recommendable to everyone. Some individuals merely don’t have the attention to sit through slower scenes that run up to nearly 3 hours. Some aren’t going to enjoy the mental gymnastics required to understand the plot. Some won’t find the aesthetics or the eardrum smashing music to add to the experience. Some folks want every single movie to be a casual affair. One they can watch to veg-out. This isn’t that movie. I almost think it would be disrespectful to watch this movie with a half-asleep candor. As such this feels like an exquisite film that simply isn’t for all movie audiences…. And that’s totally ok.