Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review
MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN
In 1982, moviegoers everywhere were introduced the sci-fi / neo-noir film Blade Runner. Loosely based on the 1968 novel “Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phillip K. Dick, the film, which was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, and Daryl Hannah, follows the story of Rick Deckard, a LA cop who happens to be a “Blade Runner” (a special enforcer who is assigned to hunt down synthetic / bioengineered humans known as replicants) who undergoes one last assignment of hunting replicants, which causes the burn-out cop to question his mission and moral judgement. During its initial release, Blade Runner was met with mixed feelings as some praised the film for its futuristic neo-noir storytelling, visual design and thematic complexity, while others were criticized the unconventional pacing and plot. Thus, the film underperformed during its release and was considered a box office disappointment. Over the years, however, the film has gained an immense cult following, with many regarding the 1982 film as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time (by both fans and critics). Looking beyond the movie, Blade Runner even went on to become highly influential in other science fiction mediums, including various films, amines, video games, and television series. It’s been roughly 35 years since the original theatrical version of Blade Runner was released and now Warner Bros. Pictures and director Denis Villeneuve gear up for a whole new adventure within this cinematic world with the film Blade Runner 2049. Does this long-awaited sequel find sci-fi greatness within its new tale or was it a bad idea to “replicate” such a tremendous science fiction masterpiece?
Roughly thirty years have passed since the events of Blade Runner and the world has been ravished by a failing ecosystem. The once proud Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt and has since been bought and re-branded by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), a brilliant scientist genius who has pioneered advancements in genetically-modified food and the production line of a more obedient type of replicants, known as the NEXUS-9, on Earth. The older NEXUS replicant models, those created before the Tyrell Corporation bellied up, aka the NEXUS-8) are hunted (and “retired”) by a new generation of Blade Runners, including a Los Angeles-based police officer codenamed “K” (Ryan Gosling) who is among their ranks. Following a routine mission, K stumbles upon a dangerous and crypt secret that, if revealed to the public, would destabilize the already-fragile world as he knows it. Told to investigate and contain the secret by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), K delves deeper into the situation, unraveling its secrets and soon realizing that an individual named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former / retired Blade Runner who vanished years ago, is a key component to unlocking this mystery. However, K’s investigative journey is being monitored by Wallace, who sends his right-hand woman, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), to carry out his wishes and staying one step behind the Blade Runner’s tracks.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
To be quite honest (and I know this is gonna be quite a shock), but I actually never saw Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner until recently. Of course, being a movie enthusiast, I’ve definitely heard about this movie and all the critical praises that it’s received, its cult following, and how influentially it has been through various sci-fi media outlets over the years. I kept saying to myself “oh, I’ll eventually see this movie one day), but I never did as I kept pushing it off as went to see and watch other (more often newer) movies. In preparation for the new movie, my local theater (where I usually go) was showing a Blade Runner “double-feature”, showing the 1982 film first and then the 2017 sequel. So, I decided to take this opportunity to finally see Scott’s Blade Runner before Blade Runner 2049. To be truthful, I can’t believe what I missed out on. Despite the film being three and half decades old, Scott’s Blade Runner actually holds up and is definitely still worth the praise that many claim it to be. I can see why it would’ve been criticized by some as it does seem a tad unconventional (darker and complexed) than most 80s films out there, but that’s what makes it’s so unique and memorable. Personally, I think it was pretty sophisticated for its time, especially with the film being released in movie era where such similar movies did not exist. As a side-note, I know there’s like seven different cuts of the film), but the one I saw in theaters was the final cut version of Blade Runner. I assume that’s the best one (I heard about the one with the narration).
This, of course, leads to my review of the new film Blade Runner 2049. Naturally, I remember hearing the hype there was when this sequel was first announced and that both Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford would return to the project. The trailers for them movie also helped my initial intrigue to see this movie when it got released and helped me want to see the first film before seeing this sequel, which, as you know, I did. With the original Blade Runner being hailed as a great sci-fi masterpiece by many, the big question (and overall hurtle) was: can Blade Runner 2049 live up to its illustrious predecessor? Given the disappointing track record of long-awaited sequels, many felt that another Blade Runner movie would potential tarnish the first film’s reputation with a mediocre follow-up endeavor. So, was this true? Did Blade Runner 2049 live up to the hype? Yes, it certain does. Rather than just being a retread of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 expands upon the idea that began thirty-five years ago, creating an in-depth and highbrow sci-fi continuation of the 1982 classic. In short, this new movie is definitely worth the hype!
While the first film was directed by Ridley Scott, who serves as executive producer for Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve, who’s previous directorial includes Prisoner, Sicario, and The Arrival, takes up the mantle to helm this long-awaited sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic. Much like the first film, Villeneuve keeps the tone and storytelling motifs of a detective neo-noir narrative that set within a dystopian sci-fi setting. To be truthful, that’s what makes Blade Runner 2049 so great as Villeneuve doesn’t make the film into something that it’s not. Thus, don’t expect a lot of sci-fi action with a plethora of sleek futuristic weaponry and aerial dogfights of flying cars or anything like that. Still, there is some sci-fi action nuances to be had in Blade Runner 2049, but nothing like from today’s standard blockbuster endeavor, which (again) is kind of a good thing as it would take away from the film and (by association) the identity of the first film. Much like his previous films Sicario and The Arrival, Villeneuve does make Blade Runner 2049 a slow-burner, which allows the story to slowly unravel and letting viewers soak up the film’s visual style and thought-provoking moments. While that’s a good thing, especially when crafting a high-brow science fiction movie, it can be bother bit bothersome to some out there, so just a warned to those expecting a fast-paced sci-fi action flick. Personally, it didn’t bother me as much, but it plays a bit into the film’s main problem (see below in a few paragraphs).
As stated above, the first Blade Runner film was highly influential to other sci-fi mediums, serving as the basis for many ideas within the particular genre. Thus, the film’ screenplay, which is penned by original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher as well as Michael Green, further continues the sci-fi ideas of its predecessor about the nature of evolution, emotion, and consciousness (i.e. what it means to be human). Again, this coincides with what was already established within the first Blade Runner movie, with Fancher and Green expanding upon the ideas, branching out into new territory with this cinematic world. While these science fiction ideas aren’t exactly breaking any new ground, it’s still fundamental to think about as Blade Runner 2049 presents in a slightly different way than your standard run-of-the-mill science fiction endeavor of robotics and evolution. Additionally, while Villeneuve does take a lot of the original film’s nuances and builds upon it, neither him or Fancher and Green’s screenplay make Blade Runner 2049 feel like a recycled version of the original Blade Runner film, with this new movie acting as a sturdy branch to an already solidly built tree.
In terms of filmmaking, Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely visually striking. Keeping in tuned with the original film, Villeneuve keeps this cinematic world with the same moody atmosphere and striking visuals and, thanks to today’s advances in technology and moviemaking is allowed to “enhance” those sci-fi settings from what was established in the first film. Basically, those classic noir nuances and aesthetics (i.e. rain, fog, smoke, etc.) are still utilized, but are given an updated CGI polish within its grimy and bleak future setting. This is especially thanks to legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, who collaborated with Villeneuve on Prisoners and Sicario, who does some incredible work on Blade Runner 2049 with the usage of light, water, and other practical elements as well as some creative camera angles and shots. Additionally, the film’s CGI components, while nothing truly groundbreaking, are smartly used and don’t overpopulate the film unnecessarily. Even the film’s score, which is composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, sounds great, channeling Blade Runner composer Vangelis’s leitmotifs and adding some musical layers to this already layered motion picture. All in all, even if you don’t particularly care about this movie, a person can not deny the amazing and breathtaking visual flair and nuances that Blade Runner 2049 presents, easily going down as one of the best looking and well-crafted films of the 2017 releases.
Perhaps the one weakness / negative criticism I found within Blade Runner 2049 is the film’s runtime. With the film clocking in at 163 minutes (two hours and forty-three minutes), the movie feels incredibly long. There are a few scenes that could’ve been shortened and / or cut from film (especially ones during the second act) and would not have hurt the film’s final product. I know that Villeneuve and everyone “behind the camera” wanted to fully explore Blade Runner world and in a more in-depth look, but letting the film over extend is a bit much, especially when it could’ve been told within a much shorter time (roughly somewhere between two hours and two hours and fifteen minutes). Because of this, the film’s overall pacing can be a bit uneven at times. That’s not to say that I wasn’t fully engrossed in the movie’s narrative (or its visual flair), but it’s definitely the one glaring problem in Villeneuve’s vision of this Blade Runner sequel.
Of course, the cast in Blade Runner 2049 is something worth mention as all actors / actresses give great performances, not matter the size of the role. Lead the charge as the film’s lead character of K is actor Ryan Gosling. Gosling, known for his roles in La La Land, The Big Short, and Drive, gives a great performance as the film’s new lead Blade Runner character. He doesn’t over act in the role as the portrayal of K is indeed to play with a more subdued and subtlety nuances, much like what Harrison Ford did with Deckard in the first film. Additionally, Gosling handles himself well when it comes to some of the heavier material moments as well as action sequences. As to be expected, and with much anticipation, Blade Runner 2049 sees the return of the original Blade Runner protagonist character of Rick Deckard, with Harrison Ford returning to reprise his role. Ford, known for his roles in the Indiana Jones franchise, the Star Wars franchise, and Patriot Games, returns with seasoned vigor, infusing his character of Deckard with still the same gruff attitude, but also adding a sense of vulnerability (a bit older, a bit wiser) to his character. Much like what he did with the character of Hans Solo in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Ford, who last played role of Deckard thirty-five years ago, seems to return to the character as if no time has passed, easily sliding back into the role. It was definitely great to see that, especially since I just watched the original Blade Runner film right before. Additionally, since I’m talking about Ford’s Deckard, actor Edward James Olmos returns to reprise his roles as an older version of his Blade Runner character Gaff (and he’s still making paper creations).
In more secondary / supporting roles, actress Ana de Armas plays Joi, K’s hologram virtual companion that serves as love interest for him. Known for her roles in War Dogs and Hands of Stone, de Armas does a good job in the movie, making us (the viewers) believe in her romantic connection with K, despite her being a hologram construct creation. It’s also clear that both her and Gosling shared some chemistry, which adds another layer to that believability between K and Joi. Then there is the character of Niander Wallace, the brilliant scientist who has re-shaped this dystopian land with his farming and advanced robotics, who is played by actor Jared Leto. Known for his roles in Suicide Squad, Dallas Buyers Club, and Alexander, Leto is a very talented actor and it certainly does show within his portrayal of Wallace in the movie (i.e. he never goes over-the-top with his performance). That being said, the character of Wallace is a bit underdeveloped in the movie as he presented as a somewhat cliché science fiction scientist who is looking to perfect his creation through trial and error. All in all, Leto is good as Wallace and the character works for what the movie needs him to be, but there could’ve been more to the character. Aiding Wallace as his “right-hand woman” is the character of Luv, who is played by actress Sylvia Hoeks. Hoeks, known for her roles in The Best Offer and All the Devil’s Men, gives a great performance, showcasing her character at being both beautiful and deadly. Lastly, actress Robin Wright (Forest Gump and Netflix’s House of Cards) turn fine performances of nuances and subtly within the characters of Lieutenant Joshi, K’s superior. I loved her in the role.
The rest of the Blade Runner 2049 cast, which are small supporting roles, are played by several recognizable actors / actresses from other film projects. This includes Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy and Spectre) as Sapper Morton, David Dastmalchian (The Prisoner and Ant-Man) as Coco, Mackenzie Davis (The Martian and Halt and Catch Fire) as Mariette, Wood Harris (Remember the Titans and HBO’s The Wire) as Nandez, Lennie James (The Walking Dead and Columbiana) as Mister Cotton, Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips and Eye in the Sky) as Doc Badger, and Tómas Lemarquis (X-Men: Apocalypse and Snowpiecer) as a “File Clerk” at Wallace’s corporation. Although well-acted, most of these characters are only in one or two scenes, but it’s interesting to see these actors / actresses within Blade Runner 2049.
Los Angeles Blade Runner K searches for clues (and answers) to a perplexing secret, confronting his past and haunting revelations in the movie Blade Runner 2049. Director Denis Villeneuve newest film expands upon Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic, bring all the right set of nuances from the original film and translating / updating them for a modern moviegoing audience. While the movie’s runtime and pacing can be slightly problematic, the rest of the film shine fantastically, especially with its stunning visual appeal, great performances, and a deep and compelling story. Personally, I loved this movie. Yes, it was bit long, but it was indeed worth the cinematic journey, thanks to Villeneuve’s direction. Thus, I would definitely highly recommend this movie to everyone, especially those who love the original Blade Runner film. Judging by the end of the film, the door for future Blade Runner installments is left open-ended, with several plot threads left dangling to be picked up for possible sequels films. Does this mean we’ll see a third Blade Runner movie in a few years? It’s difficult to say. Like what was said about the original film, Blade Runner 2049 will probably have a cult following, but it’s unknown if the franchise brand could carry enough “crossover appeal” to this new generation of moviegoers to warrant another film to this sci-fi dystopian / noir world. I, for one, am hoping that a sequel, if done right, does materialize sometime in the near future. Regardless, Blade Runner 2049 stands tall and proud in the cinematic world, achieving greatness on its own merits as a sequel and self-contained story, while standing shoulder to shoulder to its sci-fi classic predecessor.
4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: October 6th, 2017
Reviewed On: October 7th, 2017
Blade Runner 2049 is 163 minutes long and is rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language