[Review] Bladerunner 2049

For those of you who haven’t seen 1982’s Bladerunner 2019, the latest installment of the classic throws you right back into the thick of the whole dystopian future, complete with cutting edge backdrops, futuristic tech, and men who don’t talk a lot. While the movie makes more sense if you’ve watched ‘2019’, the events in ‘2049’ are pretty self-explanatory.

But just in case you want to know, here’s a brief premise of ‘2019’: Bladerunners are LAPD cops who are tasked with killing Replicants (bioengineered cyborgs originally created to be slaves) who’ve escaped the colonies and returned to earth. Agent Deckard (Harrison Ford) was a Bladerunner who happened to fall in love with a Replicant, Rachel.

Since ‘2049’ is set 30 years after the original, director Denis Villeneuve commissioned 3 short films – which take place in 2022, 2039, and 2048 – to help audiences fill in the gaps (you can watch them here). It’ll certainly help explain what a ‘blackout’ is, and why older-model Replicants are the target in ‘2049’.

In ‘2049’, Ryan Gosling a Replicant who plays the role of ‘K’, a Bladerunner tasked with eliminating pre-blackout Replicants. Unlike older Replicants, his generation is supposed to be more compliant, taking orders without question.

One day he discovers a secret to Replicants that is life-changing – that there’s a Replicant child that was born, not made. This interests many parties: the humans, the Wallace corporation that makes new Replicants, and older Replicants who are on the verge of a revolution. One group is out to preserve status quo, another wants to profit from a new discovery, while the other wants to fight for freedom.

Caught in the middle of three factions, the K goes through a lot of soul searching. Along the way he’s accompanied by Joi (Ana de Arbas), a virtual companion that’s more like a girlfriend. Even though she’s a ‘product’, she has emotions like a real person, except she’s a hologram. More importantly, she provides the emotions that’s lacking in K’s character.

A word of warning: the movie is almost 3 hours long, and the pacing is more akin to an arthouse film – at least in the first 2 hours. To be fair, there is a lot of information that’s downloaded during the 2 hours. ‘2049’ also features some of its predecessor’s inclination for a high-tech/low-life setting, and plenty of abandoned places that would make any urban explorer drool. At times the mix of scenery can be jarring to the eye though.

After almost 2 hours of following K, you realise that something is missing, and then he shows up. Deckard’s presence instantly speeds up the film’s pacing, and adds more context – and action – to the film.

While the 2 leading men are great in their roles, it’s the women who actually put the whole film into motion as they represent the 3 factions seeking the child. Representing the humans, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) as K’s boss gives him the order to find the child, setting in motion the rest of the chessboard.

Elite Replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) picks up on the scent, and at the behest of her boss Wallace (Jared Leto in his most underrepresented role yet) trails K, providing much of the cat-and-mouse excitement in the film and gives K a run for his money as she matches him in strength.

Then there’s Mariette (MacKenzie Davis), a member of the Replicant rebel group who plays a prostitute to gain access to K. While the women all play important roles, it’s surprising how much female nudity is in the film given their irrelevance.

Bladerunner 2049 raises a lot of questions (how did the dog get there?), as if it’s setting itself up for a very obvious sequel. The plot may have you thinking it’s about who gains control of the future, but in the end, it’s a much simpler narrative of finding one’s belonging.

Just don’t go in expecting a Hollywood-style action flick – director Villeneuve specifically didn’t want it to be another Marvel.