Creating a sequel that lives up to its predecessor and stands on its own is a difficult task, especially when it comes to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. But if anyone could pull it off it’s Denis Villeneuve, whose previous works serve as a perfect precursor for this pivotal sequel. Enemy presented a symbolism-heavy search for self and Arrival was a minimalistic approach to sci-fi, both of which are important elements in the dystopian classic.
Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling as K, an LAPD officer who is part of the “blade runner” unit, whose job is to “retire” Replicants gone rogue. A stunning revelation in a case he is working on leads him on a search for former “blade runner” Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, reprising his role from the first film). The supporting cast includes Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, and numerous other lesser known talents. While everyone holds their own, Gosling carries the film with his dark and brooding performance.
As is the case with The Force Awakens, these sequels are often only successful when the story hits the same beats as the original. Villeneuve realizes that what people love about Blade Runner is not just the characters and plot, but the immersive universe it exists in. With a completely original screenplay, he manages to further flesh out the neo-noir aesthetic that made the original such a timeless classic.
The retro-futuristic, always raining Los Angeles looks better than ever, and this is due to Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography—no surprise when you consider the amazing work he did in previous Villeneuve films, Arrival and Sicario. The original Blade Runner struggled with balancing the city’s darkness and the neon lights which often resulted in shots that were too under-saturated. Thirty-five years later, we have far better equipment, which allows Deakins to give the film a look that is both washed out and crisp at the same time. Even if the story seems to elude you, this film is amazing based on visuals alone and is without a doubt the best looking film in recent memory.
The trailers paint this film as a fast-paced adventure, but it is actually quite reserved on all regards. The action is used sparingly, adding weight to the fights and preventing them from becoming superfluous. The punches are thunderous and put the fighters on the same primal level, whether they be a human or Replicant. The score is saved for pivotal scenes with much of the film drowned in silence. One of the most memorable pieces of music can be heard towards the close of the film with a chase scene backed by bass-heavy, cacophonous synth growls that get the viewer’s heart pumping as hard as those of the characters.
Fans, as well as directors and actors, have been divided on the state of Deckard’s mortality, and this film will only further the debate. It calls into question what it means to be human and the purpose of life—questions which characters in the film are desperately trying to answer. The hierarchical relationship between humans and Replicants is further expanded on here with a new group occupying the bottom spot.
There are a few moments where the film finds it necessary to explain plot points by recalling dialogue previously given. This makes it seem like Villeneuve, or more likely, the studio, thinks the audience is not intelligent enough to understand what is happening. It is a long film so it’s understandable why they think people may need a reminder of past events, but if you were closely following the story, it comes off as insulting. The theatrical version of the original Blade Runner, due to the studio’s heavy hand, also had the same flaws which Ridley Scott later corrected with subsequent cuts of the film. Hopefully, Villeneuve will release some sort of director’s cut to fix this minor issue because other than that, this is a flawless film. It is a gripping watch for its near three-hour runtime, and it more than lives up to the original.
(Featured Image: Blade Runner 2049, Warner Bros. Pictures)