In a similar but distinct way to Ridley Scott’s wonderful original, Blade Runner 2049 trailer raises one of the most crucial questions around: is surface all that there left, or do life runs deeper than the visible things, hear and touch? Denis Villeneuve’s movie plays with both options, making neither a pleasing – and along the way, draws one of the most astounding, intriguing, profound and spiritually shocking blockbusters of all time.
“Two possibilities exist,” Arthur C. Clarke once claimed: “either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally horrifying.” In the cold urban wastelands of future Los Angeles, the former seems like the only reasonable answer – but that raises another, even more frightening dilemma, which appears gloomy like storm clouds in the sky above.
Like its prior, everything about it features slow-burning art work apart from its budget. Half a week after watching it, I still can’t really believe it exists.
If you’ve bumped into the trailers, ignore them. Villeneuve’s movie isn’t an explosive slab of save-the-world sci-fi – the Blade Runner 2049 online realm is and always was long past saveable – but a future-noir mystery surrounding a missing child, and the crisis of existence the case triggers in its investigating agent.
That’s Ryan Gosling’s character Officer K, an LAPD detective whose beat, similar to Harrison Ford’s Deckard three decades earlier, engages in hunting and ‘retiring’ (executing) old replicants: bioengineered robots, almost indiscernible from humans, who were created as slaves, but got other ideas.
K himself – wonderfully portrayed by Gosling in his magnetically mysterious, Only God Forgives mode – is a new-model replicant, hard-wired for obedience. That makes things turn out easier. During a reporting on the missing child – which is induced by an odd discovery K makes outside the cabin of a protein farmer (Dave Bautista) in the Blade Runner 2049 online movie’s opening sequences – he assumes the moment of birth must be somehow related to the creation of the human soul.
“You’ve been getting on fine without one,” his superior officer, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) shrugs. And she’s got a point. There’s an efficiency to K’s life that’s coldly intriguing, from his straightforward approach to work to his delight home-life with his romantic lover Joi (Ana de Armas), a mass-produced but customizable holographic Artificial Intelligence who can flick between a pretty 50s homemaker, a black-dressed, joyful intellectual, a mini-skirted young teenage girl and more, in line with her boyfriend’s mood.
Even though their relationship is based between a robot and an app, it appears, mostly, real – and this question, of whether human identity means anything more than one mathematic problem brushing past countless others, is one to which Blade Runner 2049 movie persistently and excitingly returns.
It’s made into almost every line of the meticulous, probing performance by Hampton Fancher (a co-writer on Blade Runner 2049 online movie) and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant). In one scene, K observes two DNA sequences as if he’s dealing with computer code, while chanting passages from Nabokov’s Pale Fire as part of a ritual for rebooting at station, which makes anyone wonder where their brain ends and the huge cosmic emptiness starts.
But it’s also there in Roger Deakins’s woozy cinematography – which, when it’s not sliding over dust-full deserts and neon-filled chasms, keeps finding brilliant approaches to make faces and bodies overlap, mix and diffuse. Blade Runner 2049 characters stare at each other across glass screens and see the shadows of themselves staring back at them – just as some of K’s actions seem to resemblance Deckard’s through the 30-year gap (his voice commands to a photography drone echo Deckard’s to the Esper Machine in one of the first movie’s most basic but also most remarkable shots).
Meanwhile, outside, the crowded streets are followed by gigantic, insubstantial dream-women, as if the CG geishas of the 2019-set original had descended from their billboards like giantesses climbing down a beanstalk.
It’s worth praising, and savoring, that Blade Runner 2049 online isn’t set in a newly formed dystopia, but the realm of Blade Runner online three decades on – nearly, but not quite, real-time progress. The walls of elite fortress still flicker with that weird and trembling water-light, while Pan Am, Atari and the Soviet Union are all still in good state. Certainly – the posters and trailers spoiled this long ago – is Deckard himself, who’s now living in silent in the ruins of Las Vegas, but who appears to hold a key puzzle piece in K’s difficult case.
Harrison Ford’s lately Star Wars homecoming was pure and marvelous fan-service, but this is something very distinct, and surprisingly unsettling, pondering on matters of ageing, legacy and death. It’s a wonderful part, brilliantly played, and reminds you just how much more Ford can provide than dog-eared charm.
A scene featuring Deckard, the megalomaniac industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his replicant follower Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) presents the actor’s most impressive work for years, while a clash with Gosling in an abandoned Vegas concert hall, overlooked by glooming projections of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Liberace, has a flashily creepy thanatotic vibe.
That Blade Runner 2049 online movie is a more than wonderful sequel to Scott’s first movie indicates that it passes the highest stake anyone could have reasonably raise for it, and it distinguishes Villeneuve – who’s behind all of this, somehow, since Arrival’s making – as the most exciting moviemaker working at his scale today.
The movie crackles with a chilling finality: in the entrance hall afterwards, I felt like I’d just witnessed the last blockbuster ever created. But like Mad Max: Fury Road prior to it, it shows you just how much further this world can go.