Directed by Dennis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Harrison Ford and Jared Leto
Pulling off a sequel that improves upon the original is a fairly difficult feat in Hollywood. That difficulty can get compounded by the original being over 30 years old and gets even more compounded when the original is considered by many a genre-defining classic of its era.
Somehow, despite these many factors, “Blade Runner: 2049” not only improves upon its 35 year old predecessor but also stands on its own as a genre-defining entry within the cyberpunk world.
(Ol’ man Harrison Ford still gave little to no fucks in this movie, of course.)
“Blade Runner: 2049” is not for those with short attention spans, however, and its dense script definitely requires repeat viewings to fully grasp but it’s a film that, just like the original, grows with you the more you see it.
Director Dennis Villeneuve’s sequel takes place exactly 30 years after Ridley Scott’s original film, as the Tyrell Corporation has been phased out and bought by the Wallace Corp. Nexus 6 replicants are still being “retired” by Blade Runners but now the Wallace Corp has created replicants who have integrated into society and can be controlled. One of these new replicants is K, a Blade Runner who works for the LAPD. During a job K discovers a box with what appears to be the human remains of a pregnant mother in it. This sets off a chain of events as K races find out the story behind this woman and in the process discover his own.
A long time ago, I watched “Inception” in the summer of 2010. I remember leaving that nearly three hour movie wondering what I had just watched, not fully grasping the plot or the themes involved but I knew deep down there was something I liked about it and upon a second viewing it instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies.
(My meek, monkey cranium trying to process “Inception” the first time around.)
Some movies are just easier to understand if you already have a general grasp of plot points that occur later in the film and “Blade Runner: 2049,” at least for me, is one of those types of movies. In a film this dense, little ques, scenes and transitions will go over your head unless you’re paying really close attention and I, despite everything I write about movies, am not terribly sharp when it comes to this at times. Some films just require second or third viewings before you can truly appreciate them.
(Key word: “Some”…)
I saw the film twice over the weekend and the movie on the first pass it’s veeeerrrry long and difficult to follow but, again, on the second pass through with a stronger grasp of what to expect and what’s going on the dots became much clearer to connect, the pace was almost completely smooth and Villeneuve’s vision became much sharper. The film went from just good to damn near perfect over one night easily.
Now, I can’t say enough great things about Denis Villeneuve, who was already one of my favorite directors in Hollywood going into this movie. He had already directed my two favorite movies of the last two years in “Sicario” and “Arrival” (The latter was vastly underappreciated) and “Blade Runner: 2049” is at the very least in the running for my favorite of this year. It’s just nuts that one director can put out three high quality, completely different films in just three years and Villeneuve deserves high props for that alone.
(ONLY three films in the last five years, Mr. Nolan?? Step up yo game!)
What Villeneuve’s newest film does best though is build upon its very old predecessor’s themes and also creating new ones.
Through Ryan Gosling’s K we see much of the same messages of the original expressed through him about what life is, the often bleakness of humanity’s future and the cold indifference that flesh and blood people have toward each other, let alone the synthetic ones. But this film takes time to explore personal myth and our own significance in the world.
Gosling’s stoic K is the messenger in all these themes embodying both what was good about the original and what this new film is as well. Through K we see, again, the bleakness of the future and the indifference toward life (which can interpreted in a number of relevant ways). But K is wrestling with his identity and place in this world unlike Ford’s Deckard in the original. Without giving anything away, K begins this story with a pretty set understanding of the world and his place in it. He was created, not born, he’s a replicant made to fulfill the needs of his human masters, and by those rules he has no soul. But with the events of the film’s intro he now has to grapple with who he is, what he is, and if he has a real purpose beyond what he was created to do.
(I know he’s kind of type-casted in these roles but Gosling really does play an emotionless robot well haha)
The film asks the question if relevancy is important to being alive, if that’s all that’s needed to define a life and if destinies can be changed. The film also does a great job of keeping this discussion fairly open ended too, leaving the viewer to make their own judgments of those ideas. How Villeneuve’s weaves these themes through K is beautiful to watch and process throughout the movie and its conclusion only makes it more poignant.
Villeneuve also explores these messages of what life is through Ana de Armas’ AI character Joy, K’s literal on again, off again hologram girlfriend. This addition to the story is one of the film’s best parts and Armas does a great job of bringing Joy to life (heh). We see this character interact with K in a very personal and emotional way that makes us question what is real love and affection? Is what Joy and K have real or is it artificial? Is it both? It’s complexities like this, within a film that already has a lot going on that makes it a wonderfully deep movie that will likely grow on viewers as it ages.
(Side note: Looking forward to the future where ten-story tall naked purple women beckon me to buy their shit.)
Superficially of course, if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know “Blade Runner: 2049” is easily one of the most visually impressive films of the year, hell, of the ever. The movie may be worth seeing on the big screen for the opening flyover of 2049’s Los Angeles alone. This cinematography alongside the combined scores of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch truly plays up the dystopian feel of the future to eleven and makes the dread of this bleakness truly apparent. The final sequence is easily one of the best of the year, combining all this with a thrilling chase and violent end that will have viewers glued to the screen.
(Atari: Somehow still relevant in the year 2049.)
The only real complaint I have with this movie is that even with its improved pacing upon the second viewing it is still a very long film. There are scenes that drag on just a little too long, specifically with Jared Leto’s evil guy monologuing Niander Wallace who’s motives are confusing to say the least and not nearly as sharp of a villain as his right hand woman Luv played expertly, menacingly by Sylvia Hoeks.
There’s a few scenes that can be cut almost entirely from the film but if I had to cut someone from the movie it would be Leto. There is just something smug and try-hard about his character that just doesn’t work for me no matter how many times I watch this movie.
(Or maybe it’s just that I can’t stand Jared Leto himself. Yeah, it’s probably that…)
“Blade Runner: 2049,” is still of course a great movie that will grow on viewers with each viewing. It’s dense but dense with a purpose and the more you dig the more thematic treasure you’ll find in this truly impressive movie.
This film, much like another great movie I reviewed this year, is what happens when Hollywood actually invests effort into their remakes and sequels. It’s not that Hollywood shouldn’t try again with old movies it’s that if you’re going to try you REALLY need to try!
Villeneuve is a director with vision and if he’s knocking on the door of your film studio with a script in hand every producer in Hollywood should be shelling out for it. So instead of rehashing old ideas and throwing money away for the next regrettable undead pirate sequel, let’s try actually improving upon these movies if we’re going to keep doing this, Hollywood.
Otherwise please “retire” from producing those turds now and forever.
4.5 out of 5
Until next time…