Released October 6, 2017
Rated R (Violence, Some Language, Some Sexuality and Nudity)
2 hr. 44 min.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival)
Written by Hampton Fancher (Blade Runner, The Mighty Quinn) and Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant)
Cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, The Big Lebowski)
Music by Benjamin Wallfisch (Lights Out, It) and Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Dunkirk)
Edited by Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave, Arrival)
Produced by Andrew A. Kosove (Insomnia, Prisoners), Broderick Johnson (The Book of Eli, Beautiful Creatures), Bud Yorkin (Sanford and Son, Blade Runner), and Cynthia Yorkin (Sins of Silence)
Starring Ryan Gosling (Drive, La La Land), Harrison Ford (Star Wars, Blade Runner), Ana de Armas (Hands of Stone, War Dogs), Sylvia Hoeks (The Best Offer, Renegades), Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, Wonder Woman), Jared Leto (Fight Club, Dallas Buyers Club), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre), Carla Juri (Wetlands, Brimstone), Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, The Martian), Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Miami Vice), Hiam Abbass (The Nativity Story, Exodus: Gods and Kings), Sean Young (Blade Runner, Bone Tomahawk), and Lennie James (Snatch, The Walking Dead)
Blade Runner, the 1982 original directed by the inconsistent yet deservedly illustrious Ridley Scott, is a pretty divisive film. Few would deny its extensive effects on cinema, especially movies like 1988’s Akira, 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, 1997’s The Fifth Element, 1999’s The Matrix, and even 2013’s Her. But many people are divided on whether Blade Runner is actually a great film, and, especially, whether they like it. Some say it is boring and meandering, while others point out it revolutionized the movies with a never-before-seen look and feel. I fall into the latter camp. I saw Blade Runner, the final cut, in my late teens, just as I was beginning to genuinely get into cinema as an art form, just as I was beginning to really take film seriously, and I have loved the movie ever since. In fact, it’s one of my favorite sci-fi movies of all time.
Is it perfect? Certainly not. It’s unnecessarily slow at times, glories in its atmosphere and environment a bit too much, features a simple story that masquerades as something more mysterious and complex than it actually is, and has some odd acting choices at points. And the whole business of “Is Deckard a replicant or not?” has muddled up the whole of Blade Runner‘s history and discussion, when Philip K. Dick, the writer of the original short story (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”) and the screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, said they did not mean Deckard to be but Scott has heavily implied he is. Personally, I find it more interesting if Deckard is human, an unwilling participant in the craziness of this future world, a man who is decent at his job but doesn’t like it, a person who shows and feels less emotion than some of the replicants he terminates. Regardless, I love Blade Runner for the beautifully dark, dank, dystopian world it portrays; the simplicity of its neo-noir detective story; and the central question that gives the movie a soul: “What does it mean to be human?”
Now here we are, in 2017, thirty-five years after Blade Runner‘s theatrical release, and, interestingly enough, we have the release of this sequel. I would have been very cynical about Blade Runner 2049, as sequels rarely live up to their predecessors, and I was cynical when I first heard about the project. Then, one of the finest directors working today, Villeneuve, came on to direct. Further piquing my interest, I heard that the studio was giving him immense anonymity in his direction. Oh, and of course, Roger Deakins was directing the photography. Villenueve and Deakins together again? After their work together on Prisoners and Sicario, count me on board! So how is it?
Frankly, it’s amazing. Blade Runner 2049 reminds me why movies are awesome, why they can be awe-inspiring. Beyond that, it’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. It might even be better than the original. The story, the narrative, is structured more carefully and comprehensively, the pacing – though unhurried – is better and more consistent. The dialogue and characters are more sharply written. Beyond these things, Villeneuve puts his own, distinct stamp on Blade Runner 2049 while staying true to the world of the original. It is no remix of the original but a continuation of its themes. Blade Runner 2049 is a gorgeous sequel, and this is partly because it in no way relies upon the original, and it doesn’t try to set up sequels for the future, providing us with an unsure yet satisfying ending, much like the first one did.
I don’t want to say much about the film’s story, because it contains numerous twists and turns that Villeneuve worked hard to conceal in the trailers and promotional materials. In fact, he gave press screeners a personal note asking them not to reveal these secrets either. So neither will I. Suffice it to say, LAPD blade runner (part detective, part executioner), nicknamed K (Gosling), is more or less content to go about his thankless job, content to be making ends meet in the film’s quasi post-apocalyptic world, when he accidentally uncovers a secret that could, as his LAPD superior (Wright) insists, “break the world.” Indeed, the secret reveals itself to be more involved and far-reaching than K even first imagined.
In this story, screenwriters Hampton and Green and director Villeneuve (signed off on by Scott himself, who executive produces) are still asking the thought-provoking, immensely encompassing, but none the less intriguing question, “What does it mean to be human?” And what are the ramifications and implications of not only the answers to that question but also the question itself? The filmmakers here also pack these ponderings into a story that is honestly more compelling than the first’s. The whole of this film is hung upon the premise of Gosling’s detective chasing down a certain person of interest and a set of odd clues, and you’ll have to wait and see who that person is and what those clues are, because they might surprise you. Hanging from Blade Runner 2049’s forward-momentum-providing through-line, that straightforward premise, an engaging detective mystery at heart, the filmmakers effectively explore and discuss ideas and philosophies. And K’s story arc is wonderful, too.
But the story isn’t the only impressive element. The film is also a marvel of visual effects and artful production design. It often employs practical, in-camera effects instead of CGI, using enormous, intricately designed sets instead of green screens when possible. Blade Runner 2049 is never satisfied with recreating the first movie’s scenes, instead envisioning a whole new world out of the first world’s future. It’s hard science-fiction, and though that may not mean much these days, Blade Runner 2049 could bring the genre back to the ground.
The soundtrack features an outgrowth of the original film’s electronic score with glitchy, dangerous, synthetic swells, ebbing and flowing. It does reach an ear-piercing loudness at times that can be slightly grating, and I might have better liked the dreamier aspect of Vangelis’s original score, but what we get here is still spectacular.
My only other negatives are a few moments of expositional dialogue that feel stilted among the rest of the film’s excellent, relatively ambiguous discussions and back-and-forths. In addition, there are flashback moments that tend to overexplain what’s going on at certain junctures, though that may be necessary for some audience members, since the plot contains an abundance of details and – in typical Villeneuve fashion – we circle ’round and ’round the main character, at various points knowing more, less, or just as much as he does within the confusing world he inhabits. In themes, the film draws parallels between its fantasy future and 2017 in ways that few films do, though it doesn’t go quite as far as I would have liked to see. And, yes, it retreads a lot of the themes Blade Runner brought up twenty-five years ago, in some ways better, in some ways not. Still, it goes much further, and it goes much more effectually, than the extreme majority of sci-fi flicks. Also, some folks will get bored. Blade Runner 2049 isn’t afraid to take its time with shots, and it’s not afraid of silence. I loved that aspect (I love it when a movie takes its time, seeps in its environments and characters), but many will not. I might have trimmed a few of the movie’s scenes, but I wouldn’t have cut any of them.
Getting back to my positives, I have no faults with the acting. Gosling is outstanding, doing much of his acting through body language and facial expressions rather than words. Ford brings his usual gravitas, but he also actually seems interested in his acting for the first time in a while. Together, Ford and Gosling have fantastic chemistry. Robin Wright brings her cold, imposing presence to her role like we have seen her do so well in things like House of Cards and Wonder Woman. Sylvia Hoeks and Ana de Armas are revelations, Hoeks as a bad-ass replicant, stoic but with a few moments of feeling; de Armas with a difficult acting job in her successful portrayal of an AI character who seamlessly goes from perfect ’50s housewife to sexy vixen and more at a moment’s notice. Leto maybe saves his career from the spot that is Suicide Squad with a suitably off-kilter and subtly creepy, just slightly over-the-tippy-top performance as the head of a company that took over the Tyrell Corporation from the last movie.
Blade Runner 2049 is magnificent. You need to see it, and on the biggest, best screen possible with the clearest sound possible. This is the sort of big budget project that truly deserves blockbuster money. So far it isn’t making blockbuster money, but we can still remedy that. Is the movie as unique, inventive, and legendary as the 1982 one? No, but it does bring the same sort of leap forward that previous stellar sequels like Empire Strikes Back, The Road Warrior (or Mad Max: Fury Road, for that matter), The Wrath of Khan, Terminator 2, and The Dark Knight brought to their respective series. And, yes, rest assured, I have no qualms whatsoever placing this sequel among the others I just mentioned.
Oh, and please let people see the movie before you spoil it. Audiences deserve their plot twists unspoiled, especially for movies like this one.
I’m going to give Blade Runner 2049 a 94%.