Film Review: Blade Runner 2049

An eye. The opening shot of both Blade Runner films. Eyes are windows into the soul, or the lack thereof. Denis Villenueve’s new masterpiece, Blade Runner 2049 is the perfect sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic.

It achieves a flawless balance of continuity and new material. Eyes, tears, synth, rain, walking advertisements, the easter-eggs of the origami bull, the ‘Tyrell archives’ of Deckard and Rachael speaking, and the appearance of Rachael herself using old footage and the ever-shocking ghosting technique: these brilliant instances send shivers down fans’ spines.

They act to ground this new film in the dirty, neon world of the original.

What is truly sensational about 2049, however, is the new. Villenueve’s direction and Roger Deakins’s cinematography perfectly capture the brooding, noir atmosphere of the original whilst managing to attain a fresh style.

The indisputable testament to Deakin’s genius as a cinematographer is his ability to make an entirely despicable, disgusting world so breathtakingly gorgeous on screen. Monolithic buildings swathed in chemical smog, barren wildernesses, sprawling dumping grounds, Deakins’s awe inducing photography makes every gut-wrenching frame a work of art.

Villenueve’s skill as a director is perhaps clearest in the film’s bizarre sex scene between a hologram, a replicant prostitute and our protagonist, K, a replicant Blade Runner. Technology has taken a leap since Tyrell’s day: pink skinned, blue wigged holograms stalk the streets of post-apocalyptic L.A with the tagline “anything you want to see/hear.”

Advertisements for ‘Joi,’ a product that brings a whole new dimension to the “do androids dream of electric sheep?” debate. Joi is not a physical being, she can only pretend to cook for K and drink with him and she must merge with a ‘real girl’ in order to have sex. Joi’s apparent desire to be with K and his obvious infatuation with her makes their bizarre relationship oddly touching.

When the console holding Joi’s programme is crushed we feel genuine sadness. It is striking that this symbol of Joi’s artificiality also gives her mortality, making her in some way ‘real.’ Ana de Armas’s captivating performance and the way Joi challenges K instead of simply conforming to her design by saying what he wants to hear brings her to life.

If these films consider the possibility that replicants could be ‘more human than human,’ tears in the rain, why not Joi? The numerous philosophical implications which Joi presents are what make this film one of the greatest dystopias of all time.

Many female viewers found the film’s depiction of women offensive. The film is not sexist, but the world it is set in clearly is. The onslaught of sexualised female imagery in the film is certainly disturbing, but this is not an indicator that the filmmakers are sexist.

What is truly horrifying is the realisation that this is not so different from our own world. Make one wrong click on a website. Watch a perfume advert. Watch any James Bond film. Naked, passive, hypersexualised women are everywhere. Is it offensive to exaggerate this and use it as a feature of a dystopic world? Surely that’s what dystopia is: art that points out systemic, ignored depravities that the artist identifies in society?

The gender imbalance in the film is exemplified by every female character. Lieutenant Joshi played by Robin Wright is a brilliant, sadly short-lived, female character.

For one thing, she is about as well-meaning and morally upstanding as a human character can get in these films. When she goes to K’s apartment for a drink she drops a hint, ‘what would happen if I finished that bottle?’ He dismisses her, and she desists. If she had been a man, and K a female replicant, there is no way it would have stopped there.

As audience members we’ve learned to recognise indicators that a male character will attempt to seduce a woman. A drunk superior officer alone in a room with an inferior of the opposite sex? Of course. Either he’ll take it too far and send her running, or they’ll end up in bed, depending on how the audience is meant to view the male character.

That’s how films work. Not this film. In this world, Joshi feels inferior to K and holds back from asserting herself. Maybe she’s too professional or honourable to take advantage of K’s ‘obedient’ programming. Maybe not.

Deckard’s identity is left ambiguous throughout, and the reveal of a simmering replicant rebellion points towards a future film. I was hoping for a one-off. Since Blade Runner is such a perfect film and so many of the remakes and revivals of the last few years have been disappointing, I was sceptical going to see 2049 for the first time.

Fortunately, the film smashed my misgivings to pieces, so if another sequel is announced I certainly won’t complain.

By Emily Black