REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros.

The following is a review of Blade Runner 2049 – Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Filmmaking is a business, and some business decisions just do not make sense. Indeed, some might say it makes no sense to make Blade Runner 2049 under the conditions that it has been. The original Blade Runner, which was directed by Ridley Scott, was originally met with mixed reviews and, to the best of my knowledge, it didn’t find much success at the box office.

Sure, eventually it became a cult classic, and various different cuts of the film have ironed out some of the issues many have had with Blade Runner. These days Blade Runner is known as an imperfect technical masterpiece, but I have not sensed that general audiences have grown to love the film like most cinephiles do.

Therefore the team behind Blade Runner 2049 — the sequel to the aforementioned science-fiction cult classic — ran a risk by giving the filmmakers a production budget of more than $150 million in an effort to bring audiences back to the dystopian world of Blade Runner, instead of just refurbishing and remaking it. As it turns out, some risks are worth taking. Because Blade Runner 2049 is fantastic.

This time around Ridley Scott isn’t sitting in the director’s chair. Instead, one of the rising stars in filmmaking Denis Villeneuve — director of such films as Arrival, Enemy, Incendies, Prisoners, and Sicario — has taken on the responsibility of continuing the story of one of the most influential and iconic science-fiction films ever made.

Luckily for Villeneuve, he is not alone in shaping this next step in the franchise. In fact, Hampton Fancher, one of the writers behind the original Blade Runner, has lent a hand by co-writing the screenplay that has guided Villeneuve towards his vision of the future, which, thankfully, fits perfectly with the mood and atmosphere of the original film. Don’t worry, you’ve still got the cynical, slimy, and wet streets of Los Angeles, as well as the neon light product placement. This is Blade Runner, for better and worse.

Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after Rick Deckard held an origami unicorn in his hand just outside of his apartment. Some replicants still need to be retired (i.e. killed) — especially considering some replicants now have open-ended lifespans — and the blade runner hired to take them out in 2049 is the LAPD detective called K (played by Ryan Gosling).

In the opening of the film, K has travelled out to a distant farm whereby he finds Sapper Morton (played by Dave Bautista), a replicant that needs to be retired. But while there, he finds information by an old tree that, ultimately, sends him out on another mission, which, at one point, leads him into the vicinity of a much older Rick Deckard (still played by Harrison Ford).

That is about as much as I’m willing to say here. Because this is a movie that has a lot of hidden secrets under the surface and at different points in the plot that, if they were unpacked, might ruin the experience of watching the movie for the first time. I want everyone who goes to see this movie to unpack the narrative for themselves. As I now start to critique and praise the movie, know that I won’t spoil it for you.

Blade Runner 2049 feels right. From the opening shot of the film to the last, it stays within the parameters of the rich world of Blade Runner. While some may feel that it is partly a thematic and conceptual retread, I don’t see it that way. I think it’s a great continuation of one of the more ambitious world-building efforts in filmmaking history.

Director Villeneuve and writers Fancher and Green have put new spins on the themes of the first film, and the film has a lot to say about topics that have been discusses in other films and shows like Her, Westworld, and, perhaps even, Ex Machina. As such, it won’t feel as innovative to audiences as Blade Runner did back in the 1980s.

At worst, Villeneuve has given us a worthy sequel to an iconic science-fiction classic. At best, however, Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a fascinating continuation of a story, which, at times, more than matches the level of storytelling and world-building of the original Scott film.

To me, the film is a miraculous sequel that shocked and stunned me. When the movie was over and the credits started to roll, I didn’t want to leave the movie theater. It wasn’t because I wanted to see if there was any post-credits scenes or anything, it also wasn’t just because I love IMAX theaters. No, I wanted to stay in my seat because Villeneuve’s movie had effectively knocked my socks off.

The film contains a wonderful sound design, as well as a solid score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, which, admittedly, isn’t as strong as the one composed by Vangelis for the original movie. But the one thing everyone will be talking about after seeing the movie is the amazing and gorgeous visuals.

Roger Deakins, the film’s cinematographer, should receive not just a nomination from the Academy Awards, I firmly believe he should get the Oscar, which would be his very first. It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful films that I’ve ever seen.

Ryan Gosling — hot on the heels of his greatest success yet, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, for which Gosling received an Oscar nomination — gives a remarkable performance that reminded me very much of his performance in Winding Refn’s Drive. Gosling’s character, K, has a seemingly unflinching exterior but there are cracks there that, at times, let him properly let out any overwhelming emotion.

Harrison Ford, who here returns to yet another one of his beloved franchises, gives Blade Runner 2049 a successful jolt of energy, and, when called upon to do so in 2049, Ford proves how good of an actor he is. There is a lot of emotion hiding behind the tired expression on his face, and this film gives him just enough time to show off.

There are a lot of really good performances in this film — pretty much every member of the cast have brought their best, so to speak. Robin Wright is fantastic, Dave Bautista makes a lot out of little screentime, and Sylvia Hoeks is really good as ‘Luv.’ Also, Jared Leto brings this otherworldly quality to his character, which mostly works.

But Ana de Armas is one of the stars that shone brightest for me in Blade Runner 2049. Ana de Armas plays Joi and her scenes with Gosling are fantastic. This will hopefully prove to be the breakthrough role for de Armas, as I genuinely think she gives a wonderfully magnetic performance, which is one of the highlights of the film.

Blade Runner 2049 is a captivating and thrilling audiovisual experience that has only a couple of issues that, depending on the person watching the movie, may be either grossly inflated if you didn’t enjoy the movie, or merely represent a couple of nitpicks that don’t manage to blemish the movie all that much.

To me, Blade Runner 2049 is a little bit too long with a sluggish pace that is eerily similar to the pacing of the first film. As a result, some people will absolutely be bored by this movie, while I think most science-fiction aficionados will not be bothered by the slow unveiling of the plot and its twists and turns.

That is my one and only major issue, but I also have just one nitpick that I need to elaborate on in this review. I think there is just a little bit too much handholding going on in this movie. In the original cut of Blade Runner, a noir-inspired voice-over track held the hand of the audience to effectively explain what may not have been picked up organically. In later versions of the original film, the only real example of handholding is the way we hear Gaff while Deckard is holding the origami unicorn.

It isn’t annoying in the Final Cut, but in Blade Runner 2049 we get to see previous conversations and memories to help us realize what is happening time and time again. In this case it is not merely annoying but also fairly unnecessary.

There is a scene in Blade Runner 2049 where one character says to Gosling’s character that K hasn’t ever seen a miracle. I can now say that I have seen somewhat of a cinematic miracle. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a miraculous, confident, and fascinating sequel, which has no business being this good. It demands attention, patience, and dissection. It is a jaw-dropping experience.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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