“Blade Runner 2049” Review: How to Continue a Classic

Reminder: If you have not seen “Blade Runner” (1982), preferably The Final Cut, stop reading at this moment and watch it. I’ll wait.

 

Still here? Alright, let’s begin. This is spoiler free, I promise.

Los Angeles, 2049, a mega city suffering from overpopulation, ecological upheaval, and an ever increasing reliance on technology finds itself confronted with greater issues. Replicants, artificial slave laborers made by the Tyrell Corporation, have been outlawed for decades, due to frequent insurrection, resulting in the company’s dissolving. It has also been 30 years since renowned replicant hunter, or ‘blade runner,’ Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), disappeared. Detective K (Ryan Gosling), an advanced replicant also serving as the titular class of detective, discovers a world-changing secret, resulting in his fate intertwining with Deckard’s.

The concept of a “Blade Runner” sequel can easily elicit groans over Hollywood’s dearth of creativity. Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi cult classic is a landmark in film, influencing countless other stories. Scott returns as a producer, along with original scribe Hampton Fancher. Behind the camera is visionary director Denis Villeneuve (of “Sicario” and “Arrival” fame). Even with the talent involved, I remained skeptical, as I hold the original film in such high esteem. Luckily, I can say that Villeneuve exceeded my expectations with “Blade Runner 2049.”

Though he makes plenty of nods for fans, Villeneuve forges a unique identity, never getting caught in Scott’s shadow. His predilection of blending philosophically complex ideas with emotionally grounded storytelling shines in grandiose fashion, complementing the mysteries and themes offered by the preceding film. Judging by his work in “Arrival”, it should come to no surprise how well tuned he is with his vision. Working with those ideas at a protracted, but well-timed, pace, as well as offering an original spin on the mythos, he molds “2049” into a more mentally engrossing adventure. To clarify, “2049” pulls off what is often difficult for most 2 hour-plus films these days: Engaging the audience without boring them.

 

Blade Runner’s most distinguishable characteristics lie in its scintillating visuals and imagining of future Los Angeles as a technologically dystopian, multicultural metropolis dominated by industrialization, looming skyscrapers, overcrowded living spaces, and machinery. Villeneuve takes those aspects a step further, depicting their social consequences. He also infuses AI in the narrative, which actually serves a purpose in the story, most notably in furthering K’s character development.

Gosling proves a capable lead, offering a unique protagonist with the seasoned nature of Deckard, but guided by a harsh coldness. It seems contradictory, but Fancher’s sharp script and Villeneuve’s passionate direction shape K into a resonant character. With each layer of mystery revealed, K displays a tender emotional growth that makes this large scale voyage still feel personal. It’s in his interactions, especially those with AI companion, Joi (Ana de Armas), that we see a softer side of someone who’s essentially a government tool.

He and Ford make a formidable pairing and effective contrast of youth and age. K’s parallels with Deckard make their dynamic an even more interesting watch, even though they don’t share as much time together as I had hoped. The pair sharing a few drinks with one another may be one of my favorite moments in 2017 film, thus far.

 

Since the cat’s out of the bag, I should warn that Deckard doesn’t have much screen time, even though the marketing emphasizes him. Nonetheless, it was a joy to see Ford playing one of his non-Indiana Jones and Han Solo roles once more. The scene where industrialist Niander Wallace (a haunting Jared Leto) interrogated Deckard reminds me why I greatly admire Ford not only as a blockbuster star, but also as a dramatic actor in general. I’ll say it right now, and come at me, haters: Ford’s performance as Deckard in “Blade Runner: 2049” is far superior to his nostalgia boner-inducing return as Han Solo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Though the performances are unanimously great, they pale in comparison to the film’s technical marvels.

Bristling with energy, the visuals consistently impress throughout. Longtime Villeneuve collaborator, the legendary Roger Deakins, does one hell of a job shooting this movie. His wide shots, color choices (especially the warm oranges seen in Wallace headquarters), and slick camera movements never cease to strike awe and excitement. His shots precisely capture the vastness and chaos of the sprawling LA metropolis that define the world built by Scott. Effects wise, I was also satisfied. Again, I’m not revealing any plot details, but there is a treat in the aforementioned Wallace/Deckard scene that, let’s just say, blows the Tarkin facial replication in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” out of the water.

The combination of Deakins’ photography and the sheer intensity of the sound captivated me on a physical level. I could feel the shock waves emitted by the flying cars and machinery. Every punch thrown in an action sequence was more painful than entertaining. Han Zimmer’s blaring score, which borrowed some from Vangelis, instilled a nostalgic feeling that I didn’t want to fleet, once the credits started rolling.

 

My gripes with the movie are pretty minor, but they contain spoilers, so I can’t discuss in detail. I felt that a couple of plot elements in the latter half were hastily executed and didn’t really go anywhere. However, they didn’t affect my overall investment. That mundane stuff aside, I can ramble about how much I enjoyed this movie, but I think that’s enough for now.

Some minor story complaints in the latter half aside, I’m astonished by Villeneuve’s work. His interpretation and continuation of this dystopian world is most surely an inspired take, rather than a blatant attempt at capitalizing on the classic’s fame. “Blade Runner 2049” is what sequels should strive to be and definitely ranks within my top 3 films of 2017, as of this writing. I, for one, look forward to giving this one a rewatch. Please see this movie in IMAX, if you can. I demand this for your own good.

Score: 9.0/10

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