Blade Runner 2049

‘Blade Runner 2049’ Review: Run, Don’t Walk

'Blade Runner 2049'

Movie Rating:

4.5

Of all the revived franchise extensions to pop up in recent years, ‘Blade Runner’ felt like the riskiest proposition. While Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi/noir made a huge mark on pop culture with its groundbreakingly bleak design and formation of the cult of the director’s cut, it’s also a rather slow, ambiguous, even philosophical film – not the sort of thing suited to blockbuster success these days. Despite a few minor hiccups, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ emerges as a remarkable sequel that honors everything that made the original masterpiece so special, regardless of whether or not the material is commercial.

This is the portion of the review where a plot summary is supposed to arrive, but Warner Bros. has put an odd and unexpected number of restrictions on what can be discussed, so I’ll stick to the basics. The film takes place 30 years after the original. The world is still a polluted neon wasteland, but the population has shifted. Environmental disasters led to an Earth where no food can grow, causing so many people to move off-world that now much of the population consists of a new generation of Replicants created by a new corporation run by creepy Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who also provides all the synthetic food. K (Ryan Gosling) is one such Replicant and a Blade Runner, mostly assigned to killing off the few original-generation Replicants left. A new assignment from his commander (Robin Wright) pulls him into a larger mystery with bizarre twists and a history that eventually leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

I think that avoids all the spoilers on the list I was given. I hope and pray that you haven’t learned too much.

Sarcasm aside, having only a vague notion of what ‘Blade Runner 2049’ entails is for the best and also not that big a deal. While the film has secrets worth saving and a sprawling plot compared to the sparsely structured original, story beats aren’t really the sequel’s strengths. Director Denis Villeneuve and his team have come to the project with a sense of reverence for the original. They hope not just to recapture the look and feel of the film, but also the sense of depth and mystery. The film posits big questions about consciousness and mortality and the cold artificiality of so much modern human interaction. It toys with concepts related to human rights, identity, creation, and playing god. It doesn’t necessarily answer any of the those questions. That’s not really the point. This is a blockbuster genre movie designed to provoke and challenge. At times that’s wondrous and at times that’s frustrating. Just like ‘Blade Runner’.

One thing the filmmakers certainly nail is the style and rain-drenched neo-noir aesthetic that Ridley Scott delivered in 1982. Recreating that after so many knockoffs was an extraordinary challenge, but somehow the film delivers. Familiar and expanded ‘Blade Runner’ landscapes appear with mind-boggling detail and immersion. The world-building effects are absolutely astounding, with digital and physical effects seamlessly merging and Roger Deakins’ smoky neon-lit photography delivering some of the most beautiful big screen sci-fi images since the original movie. The film doesn’t necessarily create a new vision of the future destined to be imitated for decades. It sticks to the ‘Blade Runner’ template in ways both technically breathtaking and thematically unsettling. Pollution is a little thicker, advertising is a little more obnoxious, and despite all the retro future beauty, it still feels foreboding. It’s world of abandoned architectural triumphs that feel crafted more for design than life. The movie has a sense of lived-in reality and a commentary on how urban spaces sprawl into challenging new terrain unfit for healthy life despite being created for that purpose. As with the original film, design and effects are paramount above all other concerns. The world is easy to get lost in and at times it feels like the filmmakers did get lost in that space.

Just like ‘Blade Runner’, a few performances stand out, including the tragic minimalism of Ryan Gosling’s lead, Harrison Ford’s grizzled pain, Jared Leto’s eccentric evil, and Sylvia Hoeks’ creepy assistant. Still, it’s not an actor’s movie. In keeping with a world where relationships are artificial and synthetic life is almost indistinguishable from the real thing, everyone tends to act in a fairly subdued and cold manner. That’s another echo and reflection of ‘Blade Runner’ in a sequel defined by them. It’s hard to say how this sequel would play to those who aren’t familiar with what came before. So many of the themes, characters, and plot arcs are revived and/or revised here that pre-reading feels necessary. It’s also hardly an action-packed endeavor. The violence is terse and brutal. Most of the screen time is dedicated to the gloriously sumptuous world-building and thoughtfully ambiguous science fiction storytelling.

Overall, that’s a damn good thing. This is a massive science fiction blockbuster driven more by evocative ideas and images than spectacle. It’s a miracle this movie even exists. The same was said not too long ago about ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, another thrilling and ambitious sci-fi sequel from Warner Bros. Even so, that one was still wall-to-wall action, an easy crowd pleaser. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a bleak, depressing, and challenging film that takes its time to tease out ideas rather than offering a giddy sugar rush of genre pleasure. That makes it an accurate ‘Blade Runner’ sequel and also an odd fit for a blockbuster.

Denis Villeneuve and everyone involved should be applauded. Their film may have issues related to pacing, excess, and a complicated depiction of society’s dismissive view of women sure to fuel plenty of angry thinkpieces, but overall it really is the best ‘Blade Runner’ sequel anyone could have made in 2017. This is a film that proudly stands alongside a milestone genre masterpiece and is guaranteed to be obsessively studied by a legion of cult fans. Will it be the hit the studio craves? That’s tough to say. Then again, poor box office didn’t exactly tarnish the reputation of the original film, did it?

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39 comments

  1. Ryan

    I had never seen the original until this week (though, it was the final cut…so i guess I have still never seen the original). Anyway, it was okay….but after decades of hype, I guess nothing could live up to it. Plot-wise, t was astonishingly simple and straight forward. Still very much looking forward to this new one!

    • NJScorpio

      My enjoyment of the ‘Blade Runner’ was altered greatly by correcting my expectations going into it. I must have seen it for the first time in my teens (in the 90s).

      I had read it was one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, as well as one of the most important. I was a but underwhelmed.

      Years later, after having become much more familiar with classic films, and film genres in general, I rewatched ‘Blade Runner’…but not through the lens of a sci-fi movie, but that of a film noir detective story. Forget expectations for groundbreaking sci-fi visuals, action, story…and see that the sci-fi elements are the flourishes layered on top of (as you said) a straight forward detective story. In this sense, I feel the actual plot is more akin to something like ‘Chinatown’ than say Kubrick’s ‘2001’. With that in mind, I think it’s one of the greatest detective stories on film.

    • Warner

      Blade Runner is the type of movie that get better with each viewing. The first time I saw it, years ago now, I had similar reaction. Yeah its o.k. But yet felt the need to watch it again … where it was much better. Its one of the few movies that I need watch again every few year. Watching it again on Saturday before seeing the new one on Sunday.

    • NJScorpio

      …also, watching a highly influential genre movie well after it had influenced other films kinda takes some of impact out of it. Similar to ‘A Dog Day Afternoon’…it comes off like a typical bank heist movie, but that is because it established THE formula for bank heist movies.

    • Monty Britton

      The Final Cut is the best way (in my opinion) of Blade Runner. No voice over to take you out of the moment and that sappy happy ending is gone. Never really cared much for that original theatrical cut.

  2. Warner

    Phil…. Did you see the short movies, I think there are three of them, before seeing this one? Do you need to see the short films online prior?

  3. Chris B

    Well, the original Blade Runner is my favorite film so needless to say I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time. I’ve read a wide range of opinions on the movie. Someone called it the best sequel since The Godfather Part 2 and others call it flat-out boring. I’m gonna try and catch an afternoon screening tomorrow and hope for the best.

  4. cardpetree

    I have my tickets in hand or in my email for a showing tomorrow night. Looking forward to this one. Glad to see it’s getting decent reviews. Gosling has been solid in everything I’ve seen him in.

  5. Oh no, Phil! I see that one of Villenueve’s bulleted spoilers appears in your review. Do I hear a blade runner coming to snuff you out for your crime?

    Joking aside, the list of things he asked critics not to spoil is pretty funny. I get why he put it out there, but two of them happen in the opening 5 – 10 minutes of the nearly three-hour movie!

  6. sergio

    Phil,

    How’s Ana de Armas performance? She’s cuban born like me. I’m cuban-american now.

    Thank you

    Kind regards,

    Sergio Perez-More

  7. Charles Mall

    “..,it’s also a rather slow, ambiguous, even philosophical film…”

    But an incredibly dumbed down (compared to the book, but still smarter than most sci-fi films) philosophical movie. In the making of doc Ridley Scott himself said that when he was having a debate about the androids he stopped Philip K Dick and called Dick’s ideas too intellectual and Scott wasn’t making an intellectual idea. So Blade Runner is not an intellectual movie.

    And he sympathised with the androids thinking they were supermen and humans needed to stay out of their way. That’s like someone watching Schindler’s List and liking the nazis (Dick drew on his research on nazis when creating the androids).

    Still, I do like the movie, especially visually., but it’s just another variation of robots gain sentience story. Wished they’d done another adaptation. It’s like Shakespeare, you’ll never have a true definitive adaptation so filmmakers are free to create as many interpretations as they want.

  8. Bolo

    I saw it last night. Robin Wright’s lousy performance kept me from getting into it sooner than I would’ve if somebody who had been awake had played that role. But once it came alive, it was fairly engaging. It is a true to sequel to the original in all respects (tone, look, subject matter, and the mishmash of genres). It’s not a movie that blew me away, but it was well done and I expect that it will grow on me with time.

    • James Mckinnon

      That’s odd; I don’t care for Robin Wright beyond Princess Bride, but I thought her role in BR49 was a highlight. I was really drawn to her world-weariness, where I thought her part as Generic Empowered Badass in Wonder Woman was completely forgettable. I enjoyed liking Wright so much again.

      • Bolo

        On paper, her character in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ had a lot going on. Like you said, the world-weariness, and her conflicted feelings towards replicants making her relationship with Gosling more complex. Her performance just didn’t really bring any life to it for me. And I didn’t feel she and Gosling had any chemistry.

        I never saw ‘Wonder Woman’, so I can’t comment on that film.

  9. Chaz

    Loved every second of it, from the first frame to the last, the visuals are just astounding, some of the best cinematography I’ve probably ever seen. This world felt lived in and totally real, CG with practical that were so real, just a masterpiece of film making. The story was excellent and a slow burn, just like the original film. This is a detective Noir story with characters and slow moving pieces. Where it takes the original and how it builds upon that makes this easily one of the best sequels ever done. I love everything this director does and I cant wait to keep seeing more from him, if he can do what he did here with Dune, we are all in for another Scifi epic masterpiece.

  10. Barsoom Bob

    Chaz, I wouldn’t count my Dunes before they hatch, I mean, before the box office report comes out. I liked it alot and it is an admiral acheivement and I already really need to see it again to see how some scenes play again. But, I think it comes in third behind Bladerunner and Arrival, it doesn’t have that gob smacking emotional impact that those two films had.

    I tell friends if you liked and “got” Arrival, you will probably like this, if not, it may not be your cup of tea.
    There is much clever and amazingly done moments and future tech here and some surprising emotional moments. But the overall story is a little too thin and actually unresolved, despite a touching but pat ending to be streched out for almost three hours. I don’t see this as a crowd pleaser or word of mouth success generating repeat business despite it’s many virtues.

    Saw it in 3D and Dbox. My first ever Dbox experience. The 3D, nothing flying out at you, but good, you are there depth of field. WHEN there was depth of field, there is a lot of fog and smoke in the images. The Dbox was particularly effective on the spinner flights over the city and landscapes and there is a really hilarious fight that is pretty rough and tumble. I actually wouldn’t mind having this tech in my home theater. Is this a thing for home consumers or is it just for premium theaters ?

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