BLADE RUNNER 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi, Sylvia Hoeks
The release of Blade Runner in 1982 was groundbreaking in the sci-fi genre. Director Ridley Scott and star Harrison Ford presented a dark and bleak story set in 2019 about an artificial intelligence species and the cops that were tasked to destroy them. Thirty years have passed since the events of the first movie, and the future is still grim in California in 2049. The bioengineered humans known as replicants have nearly been destroyed and the few remaining have gone into hiding by completely integrating themselves into society. There are only a handful of Blade Runners, who are special members of the LAPD, specifically tasked with “retiring” these replicants. Ryan Gosling stars as K, one of the remaining Blade Runners who finds a box of bones and hair belonging to a highly sought after replicant. During the investigation into the bones, it’s determined that the replicant was pregnant shifting what was known about them. He is ordered by his superior to track down and retire the child as no trace of this news can get out. His investigation into this child has him tracking down Rick Deckard (Ford), an old retired Blade Runner who has since gone into hiding. They’re not alone as news about this child leaks and K and Deckard find themselves targets to be hunted down. It becomes a spiritual and emotional journey for K to rediscover his past and understand what he holds to be true of the present.
By now, you can find all sorts of spoiler-heavy reviews going into great length about the film’s plot and the secrets that get unraveled. The studio gave strict instructions to critics, so I am going to uphold those. Blade Runner 2049 works best if you go in knowing as little as possible. You don’t have to have seen the first one to understand what’s going on here. There is some brief set-up at the beginning with the standard text scroll explaining the replicants, blade runners, and what happened to the Tyrell Corporation to get you back into the universe. In the age of reboots and revivals, 2049 is actually a sequel as opposed to a cheap remake with new actors playing roles previously played by Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer. Much like the new iteration of Twin Peaks, 2049 keeps it within the universe of the original, but takes it in a new direction without relying on the nostalgia factor too hard. For a movie that’s all about the future, it’s imperative to feel fresh and original and not a carbon copy of what’s come before.
What has been running through me after seeing Blade Runner 2049 is not the plot or the acting. I’ll get to those soon. It’s the striking visuals at hand exquisitely captured by cinematographer Roger Deakins. The 13-time Oscar nominee, who previously worked with director Denis Villeneuve on Prisoners and Sicario, has proven he is at the top of his game. The color palettes are so striking and sharp as he makes impeccable use out of lighting and shadow effects. I would often miss dialogue as I was so taken by all of the tones and textures used. When a great cinematographer can capture a mood or atmosphere so intently that you could turn the audio off and understand the story, it’s a job well done. Deakins does all of that here to capture the futile stay of California. His work is easily complimented by Hans Zimmer’s (Dunkirk, The Dark Knight) haunting score.
Don’t expect a whiz-bang fast pace throughout the movie. We’re so conditioned to have action and sci-fi films go at rapid speed to keep our attention. Villeneuve is more concerned with the storytelling here in terms of Agent K. There are times where it slows down more of a meditative state as we move through the story at the rate of Gosling’s character. For a movie at two hours and forty-five minutes, you do start to feel the clock tick. Don’t let that deter you from seeing it. It almost forces you to pay attention as the road it goes down for K gives you plenty to contemplate. As a viewer, I never felt ahead of Agent K thanks to Gosling’s performance. He drops the charm and charisma we’re used to for a completely subtle take on a character that is so internally divided.
While this is very much Gosling’s movie, he is joined by returning favorites and new heavy hitters. The film’s first moment of levity comes with the entrance of Harrison Ford reprising his role of Rick Deckard. I don’t think I’m giving too much away by stating that it’s a supporting role this time around. Ford gives him that roguish sense of humor in an already extremely bleak movie. Jared Leto is the film’s key villain as Niander Wallace. He’s a blind corporate head and allows Leto to channel his inner Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The last key player worth noting is Robin Wright (House of Cards) as Agent K’s superior in the LAPD. It’s great to see this role given to an actress with such dynamic power behind her as opposed to casting a male actor in the role. The downside with this character is that even in the year 2049 we have rampant police corruption and cover-up at hand.
If the original was groundbreaking for the sci-fi genre in 1982, then this film attempts the push to new heights for the genre in 2017. The special effects never feel cheapened by CGI. Villenueve and Deakins have created a fairly tangible reality given the circumstances at hand. There were times where it felt akin to the desert wasteland of Mad Max Fury Road. The concepts may be lofty, and Villenueve rightly asks a lot out of the audience. He isn’t one for laid back mindless entertainment. It’s a film worth exploring upon multiple viewings leading you down a variety of mental rabbit holes. I admittedly couldn’t take everything in on my initial watch, but these new discoveries are something to look forward to when I see it again.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Blade Runner 2049 is a visual feast for the eyes that demands to be seen in theaters.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS