Blade Runner 2049
is visually masterful, and intelligent in a lot of ways that most Hollywood Sci-Fi epics are not. It's pretty much the movie that the failed live action adaptation of Ghost In the Shell
from earlier this year desperately wanted to be. It's an engaging film through and through, despite a few drawbacks, which include a nearly three hour running time, a few plodding scenes, and the occasional off performance. These criticisms, though severe, are not enough to bring down what does work here.
1982's Blade Runner
basically set the standard for any and all dark and gritty Sci-Fi that came after it. To this day, filmmakers are still inspired and lifting ideas and images from it. Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival
) and famed cinematographer Roger Deakins expand upon the world that Ridley Scott created, and manage to make it their own, so it doesn't feel like a dated throwback. That this movie manages to be just as visually stunning as the first did when it came out is no small feat. Do the visuals warrant the extreme length? No, not really. But they do help make it more tolerable. To be honest, the movie moves quite well, and feels closer to two hours than three. There is so much to take in, it simply can be exciting to watch at times.
Outside of the visuals, 2049
is a dark, brooding film that offers little moments of levity. But the amazing thing is that unlike other like-minded movies, it actually is as tough and as challenging as it thinks it is. It tackles such heady questions such as what is humanity, or even reality itself, and does so in a way that it never seems overly pretentious or long-winded. It doesn't get bogged down in an air of self-importance, and never once feels self-indulgent. This is a tough act to pull off, but Villeneuve manages to keep his balance for a good part of the film. Yes, certain scenes do go on a little long, but it doesn't happen as much as you might expect. When doing a sequel to a classic film from over 30 years ago, there's always the temptation to stick too close to the original template, or perhaps play on nostalgia too much. This film strikes the right balance of respecting the past, while at the same time expanding upon the world and the characters within it.
This time around, our eyes into the world are represented by K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner for the LAPD whose job is to hunt down the outdated old-style Nexus 8 replicants, which have been replaced by the more controllable Nexus 9 series. He lives a completely solitary life, with his only companion being a holographic woman who is programmed to look after him named Joi (Ana de Armas). While investigating a case, he finds evidence that a replicant has somehow given birth, which could lead to some world-shattering repercussions if the incident is not covered up and solved. K is a replicant himself, but as he digs deeper into the case, he begins to question his own existence and nature in the world, and even begins to wonder if the memories he had programmed into him might actually be real. This is a clever flip on the first film, where its hero Deckard (Harrison Ford) questioned his own humanity.
It's not a spoiler to reveal that K and Deckard do eventually find each other, and wind up helping each other out. After all, Ford's face has been all over the trailers and marketing posters. It seems as if Ford has become the king of reviving his own long-dormant franchises, so there's no chance he would have skipped out on appearing in this. The scenes that Gosling and Ford share together are some of the best in the film, and it's almost a shame that the movie takes almost two hours before it brings Deckard into the story. You kind of wish you could have seen more interactions between them when the whole thing is over. The introduction of Deckard also brings about some of the film's most exciting visuals, where we're introduced to a post apocalyptic Las Vegas that looks about as barren and as alien as Mars.
The plot of 2049
basically revolves around people searching for evidence of this child born of a replicant for different personal reasons. On the side of the antagonists, we have Jared Leto as Wallace, the leading manufacturer of replicants, or "angels" as he calls them. Leto's performance is the one drawback here, as his somewhat stilted line delivery can draw an occasional unintentional chuckle from the audience, but he's not in the movie very much, so he doesn't drag things down. It's up to Gosling to carry the movie almost entirely on his own, and as you might expect, he's more than capable of the challenge. He has an appropriately detached and robotic air to his performance that never once feels dull or uninterested. As he is drawn deeper into the mystery and begins to question his own history and himself, he feels conflicted, and we can feel every struggle he's going through. The real find of the cast, however, is Ana de Armas as the lovely holographic Joi. She brings such warmth to her role that this movie is certain to launch a major career.
With all of its technical wizardry and the labyrinth plot that accompanies it, the movie can seem to be a bit much at times. Accompanying all of this is an overpowering and sometimes bombastic music score by Hans Zimmer that at times seems to be overstating the action. But, this is still a movie worth sticking with all the way through to the end, as the film does have some wonderful pay offs that are not only emotional but also through provoking. This is also a movie that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen imaginable. Try to track it down in a large screen format if you can. I can already tell you that waiting to watch this on DVD or (heaven forbid) a tiny smartphone screen will lessen a lot of this movie's impact.
Much like Mad Max: Fury Road
, Blade Runner 2049
successfully builds upon the themes and ideas set forth by the earlier film, and manages to go off in its own unique direction. Some have declared the movie to be a masterpiece, and even one of the greatest sequels ever made. I don't know if I would quite go that far, as there are more than a few imperfections if you look closely. But, the fact that you have to look closely to find them should tell you that there's little reason to skip this one. If you're a fan of intelligent and adult Science Fiction, it's almost your duty to watch this at the theater. And if you're someone who adores the original, you're likely to find just as much to love here.