Her Eyes Were Green: From Cyberpunk to Aesthetic Replicant [A Review of Blade Runner 2049]

Running behind the unbeatable Empire Strikes Back (1980), Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner (1982), in its various forms—the international Criterion Edition (1982), the misnamed Director’s Cut (1992), and the Final Cut (2007)—marks my second favorite movie of all time. This is not a ranking system I take lightly. From time to time, I update and revise my top 100 movies list. And after two decades of maintaining this list, no movie has come close to budging Blade Runner from it #2 spot.

I have waited decades for a sequel, though always fearing it may undermine the original in some irreparable way. Still, as Blade Runner is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), I wanted a sequel to do exactly what Scott did. He took Dick’s genius framework and magnified it into cinematic genius. I’m a product of the 1980s, so I’ve always valued film and its endless potential over the claustrophobia of novels.

When Scott announced that he passed the keys of Blade Runner to Denis Villeneuve, I felt a layer of disappointment and skepticism run over me. Yet, after watching Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016), I became increasingly optimistic. Those two films represent some of the best moviemaking of the last decade. I adore how Villeneuve emasculates the already effete FBI in Sicario. And the way Villeneuve brings Ted Chiang’s brilliant Story of Your Life (1998) to film (and thus life) is masterful in its own right.

And, so we have Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. I don’t want to spoil just yet so I’ll only say a few words.

Praise: K (Ryan Gosling) is no Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and this makes Blade Runner 2049 harder to dive into full heartedly. But K’s hopeless and intoxicating relationship with Joi (Ana de Armas) makes the film and adds a layer, and level of genius, to the storytelling chain of Dick, Scott, and now Villeneuve. (Additional pats on the back should go to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green.)

A key highlight in the film is the threeway between K, Joi, and Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). It’s a triumvirate for the ages and a splitting event in cinematic history. There is now a before and there is now an after.

Seeing Ford as Deckard holding a blaster again trumps even Ford returning as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. The Deckard character elucidates Ford’s own genius perhaps better than any of his other roles. Blade Runner 2049 remarkably adds to Ford’s rich anthology of return characters—to which Deckard now belongs alongside Solo, Jones, and Jack-fuckin’-Ryan. This collection of characters has meant much to me throughout my own life. On occasion, people ask me who my heroes were growing up and/or who my influences are. I usually give an odd but sincere response to the likes of…‘Growing up, I idolized Han Solo. I set out to be Jack Ryan but ended being Indiana Jones.’ Today, I can say: I feel more like Deckard.

Criticism: Blade Runner 2049’s first act progresses slowly and not in the good Ridley-Scott-kind-of-way—more in the poor-editing-type-of-way. But, as Blade Runner went through numerous edits and revisions over the decades, hopefully Villeneuve will recognize the need to do the same thing to Blade Runner 2049 in a Replicant-type-of-way.

In addition to the editing, Blade Runner 2049’s score falls short. Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner remains the greatest music ever matched to film—it’s a fucking musical masterpiece beyond explanation. In order to properly review Vangelis, we would need to converse in ways that only the aliens do in Villeneuve’s Arrival. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score for Blade Runner 2049 just doesn’t come close. Nevertheless, Zimmer and Wallfisch do get it right on a few tracks: “Mesa,” “Sea Wall,” and the epic “Blade Runner.” But, after the astoundingly perfect score that Joseph Trapanese and M83’s Anthony Gonzales wrote for Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion (2013), it is clear that better options were out there.

Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t breach the top 20 on my list of favorite films, but it reinvigorates the Replicant story enough to the point that maybe another sequel might.