Scope, style, and ambition come together to create an excellent narrative.
Blade Runner 2049 could have easily been a disaster. Reviving a beloved cult classic decades later is a risky move. Luckily, this movie proves that with a skilled hand and an obvious deep care this story isn’t over.
Note: This review will be spoiler free (outside of anything shown in the trailers).
We follow K (Ryan Gosling), who is a new type of replicant that now hunts down his own kind. K is hated by other replicants (he retires them) and most of his fellow police offers—they often refer to him as a “skin job.” K’s place in the world is tenuous. After a routine case a mysterious clue is found, one that will plunge K and many others into a series of events that are as intense as they are powerful.
One thing I loved about the original Blade Runner is the questions it asks. Good science fiction can always force us to consider things in new ways. Personally, I think science fiction can ask questions better than other genres due to its ability to displace issues. What it meant to be human is a major theme of both films, but this one explores even deeper concepts of love, belonging, post-humanism, and what it means to have purpose.
Many of the most powerful moments occur between K and his holographic companion Joi (Ana de Armas). The scenes between these two are beautifully written and mark the high points of the narrative for me.
There isn’t a single dud performance here. Every actor proves mastery of their craft within this film. I don’t want to go into more character details for fear of spoilers, but you can be confident you are walking into an excellently acted story.
Aside from the acting, the film is simply gorgeous. I have given Ridley Scott a hard time on this blog as I think he has drifted too far into style and away from great characters. However, the original Blade Runner is still a fantastic visual treat. Dennis Villeneuve proves he is on the same plane as Scott in this. I actually think Villeneuve is one of the finest directors alive today. He simply doesn’t make anything but greatness.
Anyway, back to the visuals. The special effects are fantastic. The cityscapes, people, buildings, building-size advertisements, and everything in between is simply wondrous. The film has a sort of hypnotic quality that is at the same time jarring. We go from claustrophobic interiors to breathtaking vistas, but everything has a sheen of decay. The world is devastated, and no segment of life has escaped untouched.
Even with the great sets, acting, and action where this film truly shines is the big picture ideas that it presents. This film has deep potential for future scholarship, artistic inspiration, and so forth. I believe this is the first film I have reviewed for the blog that is also on my qualifying exams, which makes it a little odd to write this. I want to dive deeper into these big ideas, but that isn’t what this blog is all about. This blog is about me complaining about films. So, is there anything to complain about here?
No film is perfect, and while I do believe this film will still be relevant in ten years, there are a couple problems. The movie is quite long, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but with excessive length comes an even harder look at perhaps empty scenes. I actually think for the most part this movie shows excellent purpose in nearly every scene (a feat in it self). However, there is one major exception. When K tracks down Deckard (this is shown in the trailer, so I do not count this as a spoiler) the two of them scuffle a but as Deckard isn’t sure he can trust K. The scene that follows doesn’t fit the rest of the film. The visuals are cool, but it was the only time I found myself thinking “get on with it.”
There are a couple other scenes that perhaps linger a bit too long, but this is the only one that seems conceptually problematic. I can theorize at what they were trying to say, but it could have been said differently (and better).
Another thing worth mentioning is that this is not some pile of crap reboot. We have a thoughtful and timely sequel that contains truly powerful questions and beautiful moments. While there are a couple moments that overstay their welcome, this is exceptional cinema. 10/10