Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, some Sexuality, Nudity and Language
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher & Michael Green
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista & Jared Leto
In 1982, Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER bombed at the box office and polarized critics. Throughout the following years/decades, the film drew greater appreciation, gained a strong cult following, and is now widely considered to be one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. If anyone were to helm a sequel, they would certainly have their work cut out for them and would need to be among the top tier of modern filmmakers. Thank God that long-awaited sequel BLADE RUNNER 2049 (released 35 years after its predecessor) has master director Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL, SICARIO, and PRISONERS) as its guiding source. To put it bluntly, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen.
Set thirty years after the events of the previous film, 2049 follows blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) as he goes about his daily job of “retiring” (code for killing) older replicants (bioengineered robots). When he’s not at work, K spends his free time with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas). However, K’s depressingly simple existence is about to get a lot more complicated as his latest job unearths evidence that a replicant child has been born. This was thought to be impossible and seems like an “abomination” of nature, so K is instructed to “retire” the replicant child and uncovers a deeper mystery that takes him to dangerous places, puts him in the sights of the evil Wallace Corporation, and brings back a blast from the past.
BLADE RUNNER 2049’s marketing is deceptive in that it paints this film as an action-packed sequel that has Harrison Ford playing sidekick for a majority of the screen time and sees Jared Leto as the main villain. However, the film is far more subtle than that and has occasional spurts of action…very much in the same vein of the 1982 sci-fi noir. It’s also worth noting that Jared Leto only has about 2-3 scenes and yet makes the most of every second that he’s on screen. The real threat comes from Sylvia Hoeks’s psycho replicant Luv. She’s scary as hell. Also, Harrison Ford’s Deckard doesn’t pop up until the film is over halfway over, but his presence is a strong point in the film’s complicated, super bleak plot.
Ryan Gosling is a fantastic leading man in the role of protagonist K. This blade runner is very much a replicant (while Deckard’s identity was merely an ambiguous idea at the end of the original) and struggles with his “soulless” existence. Gosling’s K is a depressed robot-killer who undergoes a transformation over the course of the film’s storyline, in a similar way to Harrison Ford’s Deckard in the first film. However, BLADE RUNNER 2049 differs in many respects and takes place during a whole new chapter of this neon-lit, robot-inhabited future.
One of the more twisted elements of this future setting is embodied by K’s holographic girlfriend Joi, played the gorgeous and extremely talented Ana de Armas. Even though she’s a literal two-dimensional character, Armas is fully fleshed out as Joi and is (pardon the pun) a joy to watch on the screen. The romantic chemistry between a robot detective and his holographic girlfriend is one of the most fascinating, emotional, and surprisingly believable things that I’ve seen on the big screen all year. Gosling and Armas have palpable on-screen chemistry and they share tons of scenes together throughout the running time. There’s also suspense built as we pray that nothing will tear their bond apart.
BLADE RUNNER 2049’s storyline is intelligently told in a deliberately paced manner that feeds the viewer small chunks of information and turns their eyes towards strange clues, but doesn’t ever talk down to them by spoon-feeding massive details in a giant exposition dump. Instead, conversations between characters feel entirely natural and director Denis Villeneuve shows us lots of things rather than simply telling us. Some of the BLADE RUNNER 2049’s most powerful scenes don’t have a bit of spoken dialogue and that’s something truly special to behold. It’s also worth noting that Hans Zimmerman’s score is fantastic and noticeably seems to have a bit of Nine Inch Nails influence thrown into it.
2049’s spectacle is impressive as hell. The blending of computer generated imagery with heavily detailed sets is seamless. I couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. The neon-lit, orange-dusted, and watery-colored locations all built their own atmospheres (from eerily creepy to just plain cool). The 2049 future was the most creative and believable cinematic setting that I’ve witnessed since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD‘s apocalyptic world. It felt like I was whisked away to another place while I was watching BLADE RUNNER 2049 and when I finally exited the theater, nearly three hours had flown by without my knowledge of them passing. You lose yourself in this film’s spectacular visuals and engrossing plot; and those are two of cinema’s most beautiful qualities.
With fantastic performances (from old cast members and new), smart storytelling, amazing visuals and effects, and a purely cinematic vision, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is easily one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. This follow-up brilliantly connects to the classic predecessor, while also serving as its own original story. I can’t think of a single complaint that I had with this science-fiction noir. I cannot wait until I am able to watch the double feature of BLADE RUNNER and BLADE RUNNER 2049, because these films fit together like two pieces of a giant movie puzzle. BLADE RUNNER 2049 is easily one of the best films of 2017, one of the best sequels ever made, and one of my favorite science-fiction films in years!