Run the Sequels
The thought of making a sequel to Blade Runner (1982), one of the most iconic (but admittedly flawed) works of modern science fiction, seemed patently ridiculous to me. I mean, sequels to 1980s classics like The Terminator and Alien have ranged from shit to disappointing. But the one thought that gave me a modicum of hope was Denis Villeneuve as the director, a man who’s films have wound up on my Top 10 list for two years in a row. Did he make something strong enough to live up to the pedigree of the franchise and his own abilities as a director? Shockingly, against all odds, he somehow did.
For those unfamiliar with the original Blade Runner, we find ourselves in the near future where human-looking robots called replicants are used as a slave labor to pleasure and advance humanity across the stars. However, many of these replicants had become sentient and didn’t very much being used and abused, so they started to rebel. Thus, humanity dispatch several people to go out and exterminate these rebellious machines, such hitmen were called “blade runners” (because that shit sounded bad ass in the 80s). So our protagonist for the sequel is K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner in the year 2049, who makes a startling discovery after his latest execution of a mysterious replicant (Dave Bautista). Thinking that such a discovery could upset the natural order, K’s police lieutenant (Robin Wright) orders him to track it down and destroy it as well as any evidence that could make the discovery public. K’s journey not only leads him on a collision course with the new galactic superpower for creating replicants, Wallace (Jared Leto), and his robotic protege, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks); but he also comes to face to face with legendary blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who had personal involvement with the discovery.
I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers because 1) the Internet takes the concept of spoiler to a frankly psychotic degree and 2) it’s best knowing as little as possible going in to this movie. Part of the joy of Blade Runner 2049 is, as with its predecessor, that it’s a detective story. The fun comes from peeling back layer after layer of conspiracies, double crosses, and the general strangeness of the dystopian future. So I’ll allow you to experience as much of a fresh start as possible. For those wondering if you need to have seen the original Ridley Scott film; don’t worry, it’s not entirely necessary. The film does a great job of getting you up to speed of what world you’re about to enter, and knowledge of the events of the previous film will only clue you in to developments that will be revealed later on in the picture.
So if I’m taking great care to hide as much of the plot as I am, then surely I’m setting you up for a hearty recommendation. Will surprise longtime viewer, because you’re absolutely correct. Villeneuve has succeeded in not only making a worthy sequel to one of the most seminal works of science fiction that has gone on to influence Akira, The Matrix, and Ghost in the Shell; but he has surpassed the original source material in several ways. For starters, I personally enjoyed the pacing of this film far more than the first Blade Runner, which took its time as a slow burn for extended periods of time. Here, the pacing utilizes a more traditional film noir structure, as your detective in K makes small discoveries based on tiny leads that he has. However, unlike a regular noir yarn, K’s discoveries also lead him to discover the truth about his own past, which adds a level of emotional investment that even Harrison Ford’s Deckard didn’t really have in the 1982 film.
Which is all the more surprising because Ryan Gosling doesn’t really emote all that much in the first half of the film. There’s a very clear story reason for this, but it’s interesting watching his emotional range evolve as his character digs deeper and deeper into a conspiracy he was unknowingly a part of. Honestly, I haven’t seen him this good since bringing his A game to Drive, and this practically eclipses his performance in La La Land. But the reason he stands out so damn well is because he plays off marvelously against any actor he shares a scene with.
Most notably is the relationship between K and his holographic wife, Joi (Ana de Armas). For a computer program, Joi, is written to have far more emotional range than even some of the human characters in this piece, and yet her actress lives up to the task for making you care about their relationship. What was also cool to watch is a lot of neat visual cues in which Joi would try to be intimate with K but could only simulate it due to the fact she’s merely a hologram. There is one curiously interesting sex scene involving them (and a third party) that’s visually unique and pretty memorable…because I certainly haven’t seen something that sensually weird in a long time.
Hey, speaking of weird, but not at all sensual, let’s name drop Jared Leto’s Wallace to be done with him. He’s a standout from the rest of the cast…but only because he’s acting so oddly compared to literally everyone else. He’s not in the movie all that much, hell I think his brief stint as the Joker in Suicide Squad was longer, but he does get a bit distracting at times. Thankfully, most of the antagonist duties fall to Sylvia Hoeks’ T-1000…sorry Luv. Hoeks creates a strong, bad ass villain that still somehow turns out to be sympathetic based on her heavily complex relationship with the aforementioned Wallace.
I’m not going to discuss Harrison Ford too much partly because I don’t want to spoil the surprise with him but partly because he’s basically a glorified cameo in this movie. You don’t even see his face until the 2nd hour of the film has kicked into gear and he’s only limited to four scenes in the movie tops. Still, Ford continues to take his job seriously, better than some of his contemporaries, and he essentially adds the glue that ties 2049 with the first Blade Runner. For those of you who care to know whether the movie decides to put a pin on his character’s true identity, which could be derived differently based on whichever of the seven cuts of Ridley Scott’s opus, the movie wisely and effortlessly leaves that plot detail ambiguous. I like it because it doesn’t take away any mystique from the original film, and 2049 is still confident enough to stand as its own very unique story.
The writing is top notch as well with Michael Green on top for screenwriting duties, fresh of his earlier victory with Logan (and stumbling a bit with Alien: Covenant) to deliver deeply intriguing characters as they uncover long buried secrets. While it’s hard to hold a candle to the writing of the original work by Philip K. Dick, Green and his cohort, Hampton Fancher, understood how Dick weaved a powerful narrative while making you questioning the reality of the situation you’re being presented with. But Denis Villeneueve’s direction is what ties the solid acting and writing together into a package with vision. Rather than blatantly copying the original’s aesthetics, Villeneuve opts instead to expand the visual splendor of Ridley Scott’s world with ancillary details that makes this feel like a lived-in world rather than something so clearly fake. On top of that, this narrative feels incredibly bold for a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, because it’s something that far riskier independent filmmakers would take on a shoestring budget.
Honestly, besides that one distracting bit with Leto (and a slightly hilarious scene where he has to act opposite of Harrison Ford, who was so clearly not amused), I’m hard pressed to find much to criticize at all. That may be because I’m absolutely madly in love with the film noir genre and classics like The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity, and even neo-noir classics like Chinatown. Because I’m putting Blade Runner 2049 in the same category as these legends. When it comes to story alone, this film is superior to the original Blade Runner, but combined with superb writing, great acting, stunning visuals all executed by a master director? This is “best of the year” material right here. And with three months left to go in 2017, such a designation carries considerable weight.
I loved, loved, LOVED this movie. I was thinking about giving it an enthusiastic FULL PRICE…until I realized that I haven’t enjoyed a film quite so thoroughly in a LONG time. To hell with it, Blade Runner 2049 is getting my highest rating…
BETTER THAN SEX!!