BLADE RUNNER 2049
2017, R, 163 mins.
Ryan Gosling as Officer K / Jared Leto as Neander Wallace / Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard / Ana de Armas as Joi / Dave Bautista as Sapper Morton / David Dastmalchian as Coco / Jared Leto as Niander Wallace / Mackenzie Davis as Mariette / Barkhad Abdi as Doc Badger / Carla Juri as Dr. Ana Stelline / Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi
Directed by Denis Villeneuve / Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Making a sequel is tricky.
Making a sequel to one of the seminal science fiction films of the 1980's - and arguably one of the greatest films of all time - is even trickier.
Scott's futuristic sci-fi detective noir BLADE
RUNNER was released in 1982 it proved to be a massive box office
disappointment and one that polarized many a critic.
Yet, in the subsequent decades following its unsuccessful opening
the film has developed a massive cult following and, most crucially, many
critics began rethinking their respective stances on Scott's work,
re-christening it as one of the most visually opulent, richly atmospheric,
and intriguingly contemplative genre films ever conceived.
Scott himself has ever re-visited BLADE RUNNER multiple times to
re-tool it (after a very problematic initial shoot and studio
interference) to released his "Director's Cut" of the film in
1992, most recently followed by the "Final
Cut" in 2007. Regardless
of form or iteration, BLADE RUNNER's overwhelmingly vast influence on the
grammar and syntax of cinema over the last 35 years is incalculable.
A follow-up entry
to Scott's iconic vision of an apocalyptic 2019 Los Angeles and the world
of police squad units hunting down and killing genetically engineered
human beings has been discussed for years, with seemingly no one daring
enough to tackle such a Herculean creative task.
This leads, of course, to the somewhat blandly titled BLADE RUNNER
2049, which takes place several decades after the original and aspires -
as all great sequels should - to expand upon and enrich its predecessor by
being faithful to its essence while simultaneously standing uniquely on
its own two feet. Tackling
such a thankless feat is French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve,
arguably one of the finest filmmakers working today whose past body of
work speaks for itself (PRISONERS, ENEMY,
SICARRIO and last year's masterful sci-fi
alien themed thriller ARRIVAL).
Early on in BLADE
RUNNER 2049 it becomes abundantly obvious that Villeneuve respects
Scott's '82 antecedent like holy gospel while appreciatively not engaging
in easy to digest nostalgic fan servicing by simply regurgitating that
film's key story and premise wholesale (something that THE
FORCE AWAKENS was supremely guilty of doing).
Realizing the massive fandom of the original BLADE RUNNER and its
place in the annals of movie history, Villeneuve gallantly attempts a
sequel that honors Scott's pioneering work while audaciously crafting a
wholly new story set within that world that poses all sorts of tantalizing
thematic queries all of its own. Unlike
so many sequels these days (that often seem to be soft reboots of what
came before), BLADE RUNNER 2049 has its own style, agenda, and purpose
without forgetting what came beforehand.
In many respects, Villeneuve updates and expands upon the core
ideas that made the first BLADE RUNNER so entrancing.
That, and Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (the former also co-wrote the first BLADE RUNNER), are not afraid to thrown in mythology busting twists right from the very get go with a never look back confidence, which will ultimately make relaying the plot here rather difficult without engaging in spoilers. For the uninitiated, the first BLADE RUNNER concerned Harrison Ford's titular bounty hunter seeking out and eradicating Replicants (the aforementioned genetically engineered humans) in an acid rain drenched and unforgivably bleak Los Angeles of 2019 (the film was also very loosely based on a Phillip K. Dyck's novel). The sequel flash forwards us deep into the future of L.A. (and many other parts of California) in 2049 and introduces us to a new Blade Runner, Agent K (Ryan Gosling), that is tasked with doing the very same job that Ford's legalized killer did decades before. During a startling discovery made during an altercation with a runaway Replicant farmer (a quietly commanding Dave Bautista) in a thrillingly tense opening scene, K realizes that everything he and the world around him knew about Replicants is about to fundamentally change if his discovery goes public.
officer (Robin Wright) wants it promptly dealt with and swept under the
rug, but K's insatiable curiosity begins to override his honor bound duty
to his employers. Also with a
vested interest in K's findings is Niander Wallace (a reliably unnerving Jared
Leto), a billionaire industrialist that's behind the latest generation of
ultra-loyal Replicants that are deemed safe and docile.
Things grow even more complicated when K makes more shocking
discoveries during his follow-up investigation, which even leads him to
ex-Blade Runner Rick Dekkard (Harrison Ford), who has been on the run since
the first film when he went AWOL from the police with his Replicant
girlfriend that he was supposed to "retire."
L.A. of the first
BLADE RUNNER was one of the most thrillingly realized visions of a
futuristic metropolis ever conceived for the silver screen, and Villeneuve
is wise enough of a filmmaker not to try to top Scott's work.
Instead, Villeneuve manages to make his version of the futuristic
City of Angels feel both familiar and new, with memorable and recognizable
landmarks making appearances while opening up these hellish environments
to other surrounding cities (San Diego is one big city sized garbage dump
in scenes that are eerily disquieting).
We still get the massive monolithic skyscrapers littering the L.A.
skyline, replete with vast advertising (now taking the form of 3D
holograms versus the humongous video billboards that populated Scott's
film) and hordes of flying cars littering the rain and show covered skies
(amusingly and neatly, Villeneuve and production designer Dennis Grassner
even manage to keep the retro future ads for companies that the 1982 film
thought would be major entities in the future intact, like the
now defunct Atari and Pan Am).
BLADE RUNNER 2049 is as visually stunning as the film that preceded
it, which is complimented by the watchful and masterful eye of
Deakins painting the screen with a nightmarishly bleak color palette that
reiterates how this world has hit absolute rock bottom.
Very few films I've seen have ever looked as beautiful,
yet brutally unforgiving and hostile as this one.
Like BLADE RUNNER
1, Villeneuve's sequel also bases its forward momentum on the foundations
of a fairly solid mystery yarn, replete with detours, revelations, false
starts and twists, and a rather compelling journey for K that strikes an
unexpectedly potent personal note. We actually don't see Ford's Dekkard in BLADE RUNNER 2049
until very late in the film, but that never feels like a crushing
disappointment because we're supremely invested in K's pursuit of clues,
suspects, and even his uncovering of new mysteries wrapped within
mysteries. One of the
most intrinsically fascinating character relationship arcs in the film
occurs between K and an elaborate A.I. hologram program (played in human
form by Ana de Armas) that echoes a similar bond between Dekkard and his
non-human love interest from the first film.
K, like Dekkard, is a deeply internalized and lone man that keeps
himself at a frustrating arm's distance from having meaningful ties with
real people. His ever growing
intimate bond with this computer program - that can take just about any
form and even physically interact with him in surprising ways - highlights
BLADE RUNNER 2049's thoughtful themes about how technology and our ties
with it replaces actual human interaction. In more damning ways, it also pitifully reveals the lack of
meaningful emotional bonds that people have in this oppressively bleak
focused directorial hand marries together with his film's narrative
ambitions rather fluidly, displaying masterful levels of patience in
building individual scenes from the ground up and allowing moments of nail
biting tension to build organically throughout (K's trek through the red
and orange hued dust bowl that is the unpopulated and dirty bombed out Las
Vegas late in the film is a textbook exercise in fostering an undulating
sensation of unease and dread of what's to come).
This unavoidably brings me to Ford's participation in the third and
most vital act of this picture, which affords the actor added layers of
world weariness, psychological depth, and even wounded vulnerability that
were never even hinted at 35 years ago.
Dekkard is no mere audience placating cameo here, though, seeing as
he represents a crucial piece to K's investigative puzzle that pays off in
dramatically powerful ways. And
Ford has arguably never been more authentically lived in and beguilingly
melancholic in a role before...even one that he's already inhabited in
need to be given to Gosling himself, who's given the unenviable task of
holding up this sequel with unfathomable, decades-long gestating
expectations on his shoulders. His performance is effectively built on stillness and
internalized anxiety and rage, and the actor does a marvelous job dealing
with an overall tricky character arc that could have been mishandled if
not played by as shrewd of a performer.
He's flanked well by Robin Wright as his pragmatically tough as
nails boss and Sylvia Hoeks, who plays Niander Wallane's Replicant
secretary that does an awful lot more than simply catering to his needs in
the office; she brings an animalistic and frightening intensity to her
more human than human henchwoman. And
then there's Leto's Wallace himself, a bearded, robbed, and blind
antagonist that's calmly creepy in multiple ways that only Leto could
I deeply wanted
to love BLADE RUNNER 2049, and there's unquestionably a lot to ardently
admire here: Villeneuve's characteristically composed and efficient
direction, Deakin's luscious cinematography, the unendingly sumptuous and foreboding
vistas of multiple decaying cities of tomorrow, the thanklessly dialed in
performances, and the story's penetrating themes about the correlation
between the minds, bodies, and souls of both real and artificial beings.
Yet, this sequel is marred by unwanted deficiencies that hurt it
from achieving a level of greatness that it's clearly aiming for.
At 163 minutes, BLADE RUNNER runs 45 minutes longer that its much
more well paced original, and it frequently shows.
When one also considers the overall narrative trajectory of the
piece it becomes pretty clear that the film rarely ever justifies, nor
earns its somewhat self indulgent running time.
You can sense Villeneuve's undying passion for the BLADE RUNNER
universe, to be sure, but you can also sense that it got in the way of his
film's unchecked and unyielding bloat.
There are other
things that bothered me as well, such as the fact that Leto's corporate
villain is underutilized and underdeveloped, at least until very, very
late in the plot when his twisted end game is revealed (which involves a
fairly massive logic-straining plot hole that left me puzzled).
I also greatly missed the lyrically beautiful synth-heavy chords of
Vangelis that punctuated the first BLADE RUNNER and gave it such a
unforgettably otherworldly vibe (composer Han Zimmer dutifully pays homage
to Vangelis' chords, which should help appease series die hards).
More problematic is how Villeneuve and company answer - or fail to
answer - some of the more, shall we say, nagging and controversial
questions left at the ending of BLADE RUNNER that fans, critics, and even
the film's director and main star have been tirelessly debating for
decades. Compellingly, BLADE
RUNNER 2049 opens up whole new story conundrums and possibilities without
directly answering them for viewers, which is noteworthy and welcome to an
extent. It's ambiguous manner
that it deals with some of them, though, might frustrate many.
And maybe, when all is said and done, no science fiction film sequel - or film, period - would be able to re-capture Scott's trail blazing conceptual inventiveness again, which leaves BLADE RUNNER 2049 trying to fill impossibly large shoes, and only allows for its flaws to show through the cracks more readily (there's an infinitely leaner, tighter, and frankly better film here demanding a disciplined edit). Villeneuve, to his esteemed credit, has lovingly and painstakingly crafted what's probably the best possible BLADE RUNNER sequel we were ever likely to see, one that stirs the imagination as a wondrous feast for the eyes that also promotes thought and discussion and, most importantly, respects the sci-fi genre as one of ideas first and action and spectacle a very distant second.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 deserves worthy comparisons to the original film that it reveres without lazily remaking or retooling it for a new generation of filmgoers. As one character from this cinematic universe would have sad to Villenueve, "You've done a man's job, sir."
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