REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto. Taking place 30 years since the original Blade Runner, another case has come up for the replicant hunters, and Officer K (Gosling) is pulled into a deep conspiracy that will collide past and future.
Denis Villeneuve has ungodly shoes to fill here. Sure, he is coming off of one of the best films of 2016 with Arrival, but this is a long-awaited sequel to a sci-fi classic that was changed multiple times to fit Ridley Scott’s true vision. The original may not be perfect, but it is still one of the most influential films ever. So does the second movie match up?
You bet your ass it does. Villeneuve takes the rich, teeming world of Los Angeles in 2019, catapults us further in time and still manages to build on it, deepening the themes and meanings that come with the name Blade Runner. He manages to make this film care more about all the characters than the original ever did, establishing desires and passions, then twisting and destroying them in ways that leave one even more invested.
The story is still taking on those neo-noir influences, then packs on ideas about gender issues, slavery, existence, identity, parenthood, and the universal idea of love. Most of these themes have been explored in other sci-fi films, but Blade Runner 2049 manages to find new ways to explore them, and we are all the better for it.
Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford and Ana de Armas all give beautiful, rich performances, most in surprising ways. Gosling plays K emotionless at first, then soon descends into more complex emotional states that keep the character involved, and Ford (though he is absent for a fair chunk of the film) shows emotion and life in his performance that honestly comes out of nowhere. Ana de Armas stood out for me too as the emotional core of the film, making a difficult role work wonderfully.
The real standout, not to knock performances, the tough writing from Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, or direction, is Roger Deakins’ cinematography. This is a cinematographer who has pioneered so much of what a camera can tell an audience, and still finds brand new ways to explore light, colour, shadow, movement and focus. I honestly believe that every frame of Blade Runner 2049 is perfect and I am willing to decode every single one just like I have the original Blade Runner.
Blade Runner 2049 is not perfect though, as the weighty 163-minute runtime will get on people’s nerves, and one subplot in particular goes absolutely nowhere. But the question will still be asked: is it better than Blade Runner (1982)?
And I say yes it is. I love Blade Runner but it is flawed in many ways, ways that Blade Runner 2049 made work. Character development and emotion become the driving force for this film, and it crafts a better vision for what these films can do and say beyond just looking amazing. Blade Runner 2049 is the kind of gorgeous, heartbreaking, ponderous, ambitious, deep film that touches me in a special kind of way. That won’t be everyone’s experience, but what an amazing experience it is.