BLADE RUNNER 2049
MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Science Fiction/ Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, Barkhad Abdi, David Dastmalchian/ Runtime: 163 minutes
If you ask people what the biggest and best cult movie ever made is I am sure that you will without a doubt get a lot of answers, but honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if one answer you get more than others would be Sir Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir Blade Runner. Indeed this is a film which despite in its original theatrical release was famously dismissed by critics and general audiences alike has, thanks to subsequent re-edits which fleshed out the world of the film more as well as the persistent fluorescent and rainy vision of futurist Syd Mead, been allowed to stay relevant in the world of pop culture. Indeed it is now to the point that this is a film that is now viewed as a true-blue sci-fi masterpiece in every sense of the word. Yet while that film had to take a long, long road in establishing its current, and well-deserved and earned, legacy I do feel that its 35-years in the making sequel, Blade Runner 2049, won’t be needing to take a similar path. Indeed this time it won’t take 35 years for people to view this as a sci-fi masterpiece because this time around I honestly feel that people are going to recognize it a heck of a lot quicker. Indeed, when you combine a genius blend of sci-fi aesthetics, a dense and complex noir narrative, absolutely breathtaking cinematography, and a cast truly for the ages Blade Runner 2049 is not just the sequel that fans worldwide have been waiting for. It is also, by not only the very nature of what has come before it, but also by what you see unfold on the screen before you when you watch it, truly one of the most breathtaking, mind-bending cinematic experiences you could ever have….
Now I am going to follow director’s Denis Villeneuve’s instructions that he left at every early screening of this in that I am not going to reveal much about what this movie is about. This is because most of my fellow critics and I feel that telling you too much of the plot dear reader truly would effectively ruin part of the experience of watching the mystery unfold for the first time. Yet at the same time I request that everyone reading this to please not spoil it for anyone who is curious about seeing it but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. That being said I feel that I can try to explain the plot in the broadest strokes possible thus I will now attempt to do so. Set 30 years after the first movie, our film follows a new Blade Runner, which in this universe is a term for a police officer who is assigned to hunt down illegal replicants (synthetic humans designed for slave labor) and “retire” (figure that one out on your own) them named K (Ryan Gosling) who, while engaged in what seems like a standard day at the office makes a discovery that could truly have implications for the entire world. It isn’t long after that of course that K is assigned by his superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) to deal with this impeding threat before the word gets out, and thus K finds himself beginning an investigation that will soon lead him to uncovering secrets of the past, particularly those regarding the actions of a former and long missing Blade Runner named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), as well as the nature of his very existence…
Now Blade Runner 2049 manages to find success where so many other long-awaited sequels have faltered in that here is a sequel that does a terrific job of finding just the right balance between the old and new. For example the new character of K truly is far from a substitute for Rick Deckard in an identical storyline, and actually does present himself and is given an arc which showcases him as a character with a vastly and wildly different agency, motivations and relationships as compared to Deckard to the point that by the end you are as invested in his singular fate as much as the entire world’s. Indeed it’s his character that not only anchors the film, but also that lets this story manage to stand on its own two feet. At the same time however I do think it’s safe to say that should you have an awareness of what has come before in this universe. This is because it certainly does enhance the feature as not only does it give a little bit of illustrative background to some of this film’s elegantly and brilliantly-laid exposition, but it also makes it much more satisfying when certain important touchstones find themselves hit upon. Yet unlike many other albeit way more faulty follow-ups this aspect of the film never feels forced, and it manages to organically build on the world instead of feeling shoehorned in and/or secondary.
Now after the questions about Blade Runner 2049’s fidelity to the original have subsided from your mind, I am sure dear reader that your attention might next be drawn towards this blockbuster’s two hour and 40 minute runtime. A runtime which by definition means this movie can truly be an intimidating feat for any movie-goer to sit through. Trust me when I say however that the mountain of a runtime is simply just another way for the film to reveal just how impressive it really is. Indeed in truly classic film noir (think Chinatown) fashion, each new scene manages to truly offer up a crucial piece of the puzzle and thus we’re off to the next step. Indeed, it not only never feels like it’s getting bogged down in exposition, but we also get to play witness to an incredibly flowing narrative that keeps everything moving seamlessly from scene-to-scene. However I should warn you dear reader: this film does not play down to the audience in any way, shape, form, or fashion so you do have to pay attention, but really I think that isn’t asking too much of you from a movie that is this entrancing.
Now I feel that “entrancing” truly is the right word to start this section of the review off dear reader. That is because what cinematographer Roger Deakins has created with his work on this film is not only Oscar-worthy but is also, unequivocally and unquestionably, one of the most breathtaking cinematic experiences you could possibly have. Now of course the filmmakers obviously, with the first film, had an incredible template to launch from, but what is so phenomenal is just how much the original vision as done by Sir Ridley and Jordan Cronenweth has been able to marvelously evolve in the last 35 years. Yet ultimately we see that it was just a starting point for what the filmmakers and their team accomplish with the look of rainy 2049 Los Angeles and the world beyond it. Indeed there truly are more than a few moments when watching this at home where you might just find yourself just hitting pause on your remote just so you can spend an extra precious moment or 2 truly embracing the absolutely stunning beauty of the world that you have found yourself immersed in.
Now in the same way that revealing too much about this film’s plot would deal a terrible blow in favor of spoiling the experience of watching this fantastic film, so too would be the art of talking way too much about the characters in this chapter of the Blade Runner universe. Yet at the same time the performances by the incredible ensemble on display here do rightfully demand and deserve recognition. For starters I honestly feel that between Blade Runner 2049, 2011’s Drive and last year’s The Nice Guys and La La Land, I think it’s about time that we truly recognize the power behind the cinematic concept of “Ryan Gosling in Los Angeles” as the amazing individual genre that it is. I say that because once again Gosling manages to knock it out of the park and give audiences yet another subtle-yet-powerful turn. Indeed he truly does a wonderful job of taking a lead performance that could’ve simply been a carbon copy of Rick Deckard from the first film and instead manages to give us a three-dimensional character that truly is his own person. Likewise Ana De Armas and Sylvia Hoeks manage to also do a terrific job of giving us two very different, but at the same time, equally commanding turns on opposite ends of the protagonist/antagonist spectrum, and while appearing in what are fairly limited roles screen time-wise, both Dave Bautista and Jared Leto both manage to showcase the full extent of their acting talents and abilities. For the fans of the original however, the biggest treat will most definitely be Harrison Ford’s return as Rick Deckard and not just because it’s a return that fans have been waiting for 35 years to see. No it’s honestly because this is NOT the eternally grumpy Harrison Ford of the late 2000’s and 2010’s, with 42 and Force Awakens perhaps being the exceptions to that statement. This is the Harrison Ford that when you gave him the right script and the right story could actually ACT and actually give you a performance you would never forget and that is what we get on display in this movie. Indeed it may take him awhile to show up, and it may be a co-starring role in every sense of the word, but this truly is some of Ford’s best work in a while and with the recent string of success he has had between this and the 7th Star Wars I can’t wait to see what he brings to the next Indiana Jones movie…
All in all Blade Runner 2049 really truly is far, far, and away so much better than anyone from the casual movie goer to people who have been waiting for this sequel our whole lives, could ever have expected it to be. Indeed this may be due to the fact that 9 times out of 10 decades in the making sequels are almost never as satisfying as we wanted them to be upon finally being released. Yet upon seeing the finished product of this one I feel that what Denis Villeneuve has created here is nothing short of phenomenal, in that with Blade Runner 2049 he along with the rest of the cast and crew has managed to craft and bring to audiences a piece of art that is not only just as epic, fascinating and drop dead, mesmerizingly beautiful as its timeless predecessor from 35 years ago, but that takes you on a journey you won’t soon forget. On a scale of 1-5 I give Blade Runner 2049 a solid 4.5 out of 5.