Director: Denis Villeneuve
Notable Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Barkhad Abdi, Hiam Abbass, Wood Harris
The original Blade Runner has reached an almost God like status as a piece of cult cinema over the last 30 years. It was built on the recipe of such. It’s loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, it’s a film meant to be outlandishly detail oriented, it’s science fiction that asks big questions and never answers them, and it has multiple cuts that fans can pick apart for its details and philosophical elements. For these things, it feeds into its own influential status in the science fiction genre along with being somewhat abrasive in its slow, stylish approach that often plays against the usual tropes which also makes it wildly divisive among cinephiles. It’s either worshipped or treated with disdain. Which gives it the ultimate cult status. When it was first announced that the sequel, ultimately titled Blade Runner 2049, would actually go forward with some of the hottest talent in the industry in director Denis Villeneuve and star Ryan Gosling, it was almost not believable. Could they pull off a film that retains the tone and style of the original (a divisive aspect of the film) to appease the long time fans, but find a way to advance the story 30 years after the fact? Oddly enough, the answer is very much yes to both of those. Not only does Blade Runner 2049 accomplish the feat of continuing the story without essentially remaking it, but it might even be more ambitious in its style and approach than the original. It’s also a film that may be even more divisive for the absolutely intense style and slow burn approach it uses, so like the original, it is not going to be for everyone.
|Ads are a lot more in your face than ever before.|
However, for this reviewer, Blade Runner 2049 is something of a masterpiece continuation of the original film. It’s the core concepts and style of the film that truly work in its favor as a new story in the larger saga of the universe of Blade Runner. Like the original, 2049 is a dense, often vague, and slow burning noir inspired science fiction where its style is just as much substance as the script or performances provide. At a robust 163 minutes in length, it’s a film that demands its audience to have patience and invest in the film’s devotion to small moments of contemplation and vague detail work which can be a lot to ask for more mainstream appeal, but one that pays off in the end for those willing to invest. It’s a beastly slow burn for a narrative to drive its story and Villeneuve meticulously crafts it to maintain its pacing and world building, so keep that in mind before stepping in. It’s not for everyone, but for those who enjoy the original it’s just the exact approach to feed into the dense world that was established 30 years ago.
|Been through the desert with a cop with no name...|
In the vein of the series, 2049 remains dedicated to its larger detective story arc as Ryan Gosling’s Blade Runner, referred to as K, attempts to crack a much larger conspiracy after stumbling upon a mysterious set of bones when he uncovers a rogue Replicant. In many ways, while this is definitely K’s story and not nearly the co-lead narrative with Harrison Ford’s Deckard that the trailers indicated – who doesn’t even show up until the final act, the film parallels the themes of the original while branching into some modern commentaries. Questions about the realism, memories, and humanity are now partnered with questions about purpose and identity while it further explores how emotion defines those traits. It’s artfully crafted so that these questions arise naturally within the detective noir plotting and the character study that drives the entire core of the film. Just when you think you know where it’s going, it pivots just enough to keep the characters on their toes even if the audience has started to piece it together and it’s wonderfully effective at doing such. Added subtext about “lesser people based on their birth,” isolation, or the God like egos of corporate power only fuel modern issues and give it a newer feel for a modern audience without losing the tone and style. Blade Runner 2049 aptly parallels the original while never rehashing things in uninspired ways.
|The visuals are a show stopper.|
Beyond its thematic elements and hefty slow burn and detail oriented narrative, 2049 is also significantly successful film on the sheer brilliance of its execution. The original Blade Runner developed its cult status from its visual atmosphere that was the foundation of its dynamic sound and score designs. 2049 not only continues the stylish setting and atmosphere, but Villeneuve takes it perhaps a step further and injects some wildly artistic concepts within it. He goes full Ridley Scott meets Akira Kurosawa in the visuals with bold color choices, movement, and the lack of either for contrast. He litters the film with various weather elements (pure Kurosawa) and varies the scope of shots to give the world building a grander feel. With Deakins on board, it’s all brilliant looking too. This is in turn partnered with the iconic and deep resonating score that replicates the original without sounding like a knock off which completes the atmospheric touches of the film. As mentioned before, the style of the film is as much part of its substance as the writing or performances and it’s worthy to experience this film just for its visual and sound designs.
|Best romantic subplot of the year?|
At this point, this review has now gotten a bit long for our goals on the site and I haven’t even mentioned the performances. They are just as subtle, deep, and dynamic as the rest of the film. Ryan Gosling anchors the film with remarkable finesse, using the challenges of the role as a way to define his own performance in it, and the surrounding cast matches or contrasts him (and the tone) with impressive abilities. Even the smaller roles, including a hypnotic role for Jared Leto and a tense one from Bautista, all work in conjunction with the tone and narrative to deliver bigger moments than just screen time. The biggest surprise though comes from Gosling’s romantic interest Joi, played with heartwarming effect by Ana de Armas, who eats scenery and displays a sparking chemistry with Gosling. And fortunately, Harrison Ford comes to the film with a strong presence and makes the most of his time even when things start to get a bit predictable by the time he shows up.
|"Why does it always have to be snakes...err...which franchise am I in again?"|
The jist of this review? Blade Runner 2049 is an iconic cinematic experience even if it occasionally feels a tad long and certain scenes feel like they are trying to establish a grander universe for further sequels down the road. It’s beautiful to see, brilliant to listen to, and thoughtful in its layering of writing and performances. Villeneuve couldn’t have been a better choice to continue the Blade Runner series with 2049 as pure proof of such. Perhaps the biggest compliment that I can give this film is that it will be the kind of film that resonates well beyond this year or its weak initial box office performance. Like the original, Blade Runner 2049 will be analyzed, remembered, and adored by its fans for 30 years down the road too.
Is there anything better than just being able to match the influential power of its predecessor? As far as I’m concerned, it’s no. And that’s what Blade Runner 2049 brings to the cinematic landscape and fans shouldn’t be happier.
Written By Matt Reifschneider