Dir: Denis Villeneuve
Writer(s): Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Carla Juri
Runtime: 163 min
Blade Runner 2049 is not just one of the best sequels or best science-fiction movies ever made, it’s straight up one of the best movies ever made. A worthy follow-up to the cult classic original in every conceivable way, 2049 is a thought-provoking, drop-dead gorgeous film that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.
While it’s possible to discuss Blade Runner 2049 without dipping into spoilers, so much of what makes the movie great is tied to them that I’d rather just go all in.
For the benefit of those who haven’t seen it yet, here’s a quick spoiler-free take – Blade Runner 2049 expands on the original’s complex themes of humanity, memory, technology and so on in fascinating ways. It is utterly faithful to the spirit and aesthetic of the first movie, yet builds a world and story that are all its own.
It’s long and slow, but never comes across as drawn out or boring. Villeneuve’s measured approach lets you soak up Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography and gives you time to process the movie’s meaty sci-fi ideas. The whole thing is bolstered by strong performances from a fantastic cast made up of both veterans and newcomers.
The original Blade Runner isn’t required viewing, but anyone who has seen it will have an easier time slipping into 2049’s world and will find much more to appreciate.
[SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT]
30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner, humanity still relies on bioengineered beings known as replicants for its survival. The newer models are thought to be more stable and obedient, while the older ones are hunted down and ‘retired’ by the so called blade runners.
Whereas the original kept audiences guessing if protagonist Rick Deckard was human or a replicant, 2049 flips the tables and lets you know almost immediately that Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant blade runner. It’s not exactly the best of both worlds, as both his human colleagues and civilians frequently insult and belittle him (‘skin-job’, ‘skinner’) while his own kind doesn’t take kindly to someone whose job it is to ‘retire’ them.
Despite this, K is a reliable, obedient officer of the law, but his worldview starts to fall apart when he discovers evidence that a replicant was able to give birth – something which was thought to be impossible. Worried that news of this could throw the fragile world order into chaos, K’s superiors task him with killing the child.
‘I’ve never retired something that was born before’ an uneasy K says. When asked what’s the difference, he replies ‘To be born is to have a soul, I guess.’ As he continues to investigate and search for the child, K grows ever more unsure of himself and his place in the world.
Gosling’s capacity for evocative, deeply understated performances makes him the perfect fit for this role. He’s quiet, reserved and utterly captivating. K is a man of few words and fewer facial expressions and yet you always know exactly what’s going through his head at all times.
Equally spellbinding is Ana de Armas as Joi, a hologram in a romantic relationship with K. Are her emotions real, or simply a product of her programming? Are those two mutually exclusive? In one of 2049’s many memorable sequences, Joi has sex with K by syncing her movements with replicant sex worker Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). Joi is someone who is both incredibly intimate with and yet noticeably distant from K and Armas captures that discrepancy beautifully.
At one point, K encounters Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), an expert in creating fake memory implants for replicants who lives in isolation because of a weak immune system. She credits her talent for creating the most authentic seeming memories solely on her imagination, which is the only way she truly experiences the world outside. It’s a wonderful character and a fascinating sci-fi concept.
Despite his prominent billing and presence in the film’s marketing, Harrison Ford isn’t in Blade Runner 2049 all that much. Deckard plays a small, but memorable role that comes into play quite late in the film. 2049 retains the ambiguity regarding the character’s identity, without letting that get in the way of exploring how’s he grown and changed since the events of the original.
Ford gets to kick ass, be a snarky grump and show off his range in a few very emotionally charged scenes, so all in all, 2049 makes the absolute most of his limited screen time.
Much has been made of Blade Runner 2049’s cinematography and with good reason – this is easily one of the most gorgeous movies I have ever seen in my life. It’s so beautiful that I had tears in my eyes less than five minutes after the movie started.
The world of 2049 is bleak and dystopian, but far from drab. It’s a movie that could easily fill up several art galleries – its stunning use of color and exquisite framing make every shot a sight to behold. On a conceptual level, it tackles the question of ‘what would the future of a retro-futuristic world look like’ and the result is a fascinating meld of modern technology and retro sci-fi sensibilities.
I’m almost at a 1000 words already and yet there’ still so much I haven’t even mentioned. Character-wise, there’s Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), a deadly replicant antagonist that effortlessly pulls off a cold, menacing vibe. Dave Bautista has a tiny, but still memorable role as a replicant farmer. Edward James Olmos briefly reprises his role from the original. Robin Wright kills it as K’s LAPD superior.
The story sets up several fascinating strands that could easily lead to a sequel, but ends on a conclusive and incredibly powerful note. It’s one of the only times I can think of that I actually wished a two and half hour movie was longer.
I’m dangerously close to just writing 2000 words listing my favorite shots from the movie, so I guess I’ll just end the review here. Blade Runner 2049 was one of my most highly anticipated movies this year and I’m incredibly happy to say that it’s above and beyond my wildest expectations.