Blade Runner 2049 (2017, USA, d. Denis Villeneuve, 163 minutes)
1982’s Blade Runner has become one of the most polarizing and discussed films of the past several decades. From numerous re-edits and many arguments from its cast and crew about what certain things mean and what is actually real, Blade Runner seems to never leave the subconscious of pop culture, despite being 35 years old. To me, it’s definitely a classic, albeit one I don’t particularly love, but rather admire. There is a certain remarkable aspect about it that keeps you wanting to revisit its world, regardless of your opinion about the overall film. With Blade Runner 2049, we get to revisit the world, and then some.
Per the studios wishes, and of mine, I won’t give away any plot spoilers in this review, I’m not even going to tell you the basic plot. What you need to know is that this is a sequel to Blade Runner starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. That’s as much plot as I’m willing to give you. Trust me, once you see the film, you’ll be glad I didn’t say any more.
Blade Runner 2049 is the rare sequel that satisfyingly expands on the themes of its predecessor, while also enriching the world and delivering a film that stands on its own as a new classic.
Director Denis Villeneuve crafts what might be his best film to date, and after such great films like Sicario, Prisoners and Arrival, that’s one hell of an accomplishment.
That’s exactly what Blade Runner 2049 is though, an accomplishment. From it’s compelling philosophical elements, to its human story and earth-shattering cinematography from Roger Deakins — who WILL finally win an Oscar for this visual feast — there’s not a single aspect of this film that appears to be phoned in.
Speaking of Deakins and the cinematography, this might be one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen. The extravagant colors that leap off the screen make you feel like you’re watching a candy-coated noir story. It’s a bit of a cliche to say the phrase “a feast for your eyes”, but if there’s any film that warrants such an accolade, it’s this one. The iconic landscapes of the original are back in full force. The classic Coke ads are front-and-center and even the nostalgic Atari billboard makes an appearance. It’s kind of nice thinking that in this world in 2049, Atari is still popular.
Ryan Gosling is terrific as our hero, “K”, as if there has ever been a bad Gosling performance. His quiet presence and no-nonsense attitude reminds you a bit of his character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, but here he’s more vulnerable than you might expect and makes for some powerful moments. Plus, Gosling never seems to fail when it comes to wearing extremely bad-ass coats.
Harrison Ford, while not in the film as much as you may think, is nevertheless very good and brings a great deal of emotion to his role that I haven’t seen in Ford in quite some time. Jared Leto chews the scenery in his few scenes which manage to be some of the most frightening in the entire film.
The rest of the cast including Ana De Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks and Mackenzie Davis all get their moments to shine and make each of their characters memorable.
This film is chock full of surprises, beginning with the very opening scene. Every twist and turn is genuinely surprising and well earned. Thankfully the trailers don’t give away any major details, but I would still steer clear of all marketing materials just in case. This is a film that, not since The Force Awakens has had so much secrecy surrounding it, and for good reason.
Keeping in tone with the original, the emotional resonance sneaks up on you, particularly in the films bleak third act. If you find yourself deep enough into the philosophy of the story, you might find yourself shedding a tear or two.
Running at a grand, 163 minutes, some, maybe a lot, will feel this is too long of a journey and I can see those criticisms, but I found myself so invested in this world, that I never had a problem with the length. In fact, one of the few problems I have with this film are a handful of plot threads that don’t fully come to a conclusion and would’ve liked to have seen fulfilled. Had this film set up a sequel — thank god it doesn’t— I would be more forgiving, but as of now, the film stands to tell its own singular story.
While it could be a bit too esoteric for some viewers, Blade Runner 2049 is an overwhelming experience in the best way possible. Despite a couple hiccups with the plot, this is a sequel that manages to shatter its expectations, all the while creating a film that will stand on its own as one of the most visual arresting films ever made. This is a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen you can find, with the best sound system you can find. Denis Villeneuve further solidifies himself as the one of the best directors working today.
And to answer the decades-long question of whether or not Deckard is a replicant… does it matter?