To review ‘Blade Runner 2049’, it only seems fitting that I start off with my quick take on the 1982 flawed masterpiece that is director Ridley Scott’s original ‘Blade Runner’. Now, as any past reader of my reviews can probably surmise, I’m a huge fan of Ridley and his late brother Tony Scott and their mutual filmographies. ‘Blade Runner’ holds a unique spot in Ridley’s, given it’s notoriety and lasting cultural impact. When it was released in ’82, it was Scott’s 3rd feature film, behind ‘The Duelists’ (1977), and, of course, ‘Alien’ (1979). After ‘Alien’ chest-bursted all over the audience of the day and separated them from tons of their cash by scaring the shit out of them with a B-movie concept in an A-Level production, with a visual panache that was ahead of its time…Hollywood noticed Ridley then and basically gave him the keys to the city. Feeling ambitious, he opted to helm an overblown adaptation of Philip K. Dicks 1968 novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, which ended up being called ‘Blade Runner’…after a notoriously troubled and chaotic production. With the exception of the story of the making of ‘Apocalypse Now’ (beautifully detailed in the documentary ‘Hearts of Darkness’), I think the one for ‘Blade Runner’ is now woven into the fabric of Hollywood, especially now that the box-office failure that ‘Blade Runner’ turned out to be at the time has become recognized as one of the most influential science fiction films ever made. Now, MY take of ‘Blade Runner’ is this: As with ALL of Ridley Scott’s films…it looks stunning. The obsessive level of detail (as documented in the terrific Behind the Scenes book ‘Future Noir’, by Paul M. Sammon) is insane and really does a brilliant job creating the ‘world’ of ‘Blade Runner’. This massive production is noted as being one of the main, (if not THE Main), influences on the cyberpunk, techno-thriller genre, examples of which are everywhere now, like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995), ‘Strange Days’ (1995) and ‘Dark City’ (1998), just to name a few. I love the application of the ‘film noir’ tropes to the dystopian future’s urban sprawl. I also like some of the challenging questions it asks, most notably the ponderings on what it means to actually be human. On the other hand, I do find the narrative to be somewhat clunky and oddly paced, though I think that over time that’s become part of its charm. Harrison Ford’s ‘Rick Deckard’ almost completely lacks charm and charisma, and we mostly just see him go through the motions of being a hard-boiled detective ‘on the case’. Now, in the eyes of some film fans, that plays into some of the movie’s core questions, while others, like myself, see it for what it was…a lack of effective communication between director and actor. It’s been well documented that Ridley was SO obsessed by the style of the film (which it is rightly known for), that he neglected the ‘substance’ ie his actors, and it comes through, especially where Harrison Ford is concerned. Compared to the charming rogues ‘Han Solo’ and ‘Indiana Jones’…’Deckard’ is a mopey expressionless, lame ass. I’ve said this to many people over the years…I don’t give a shit about the motivations and actions of almost any of the characters in ‘Blade Runner’…but I love the world that they inhabit. I REALLY like ‘Blade Runner’…but I fall just short of being able to proclaim my undying love for the flick. Is it a classic? Yes. Does it get my blood pumping when I think of it? No. It’s easy to see why MANY people have said they found it boring. Or dull. In many respects…it is. It’s a movie that takes it’s time to tell it’s oddly paced story and that can try someone’s patience…especially in today’s world of rapid jump-cuts and instant gratification.
SO…when I heard that they had green-lit a direct sequel to the 1982 cult classic…I was instantly skeptical. There’s been a wave of 80’s nostalgia tearing across our various screens lately and while some of it has been great…*cough ‘Stranger Things’ cough*…some of it has totally sucked …*cough ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ cough*. I was afraid that this was just another money-grab excuse to exploit a key piece of pop culture, that would end up shitting all over the legacy of the original. But then I started hearing details. First off…Harrison Ford was going to be returning to the role of ‘Deckard’…which is fucking amazing when you consider the stories of the shitty time he had filming the first one. I guess time, tons of cash, smoking legendarily strong weed, flying airplanes and banging ‘Ally McBeal’ can chill someone, like Harrison Ford, out. I also heard that Ridley Scott would be back…but only as a Producer / ‘creative consultant’ (?)…*cocks eyebrow* It sounds like he originally was lined up to do it, which would make sense since ‘Blade Runner’ is one of his babies, but the schedule conflicted with his shooting of ‘Alien Covenant’, for 20th Century Fox. So in his place stepped rising Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (‘Sicario’)…which was A-OK, as I’ve loved the films of his that I’ve seen. And then came along legendary Director of Cinematography Roger Deakins (‘Skyfall’)…which virtually guarantee’d a pretty movie…at least. And so on and so forth. So I followed along with the production and began to take in the marketing. Similar to what Ridley did with ‘Alien Covenant’, 3 short films; ‘2036: Nexus Dawn’, ‘Black Out 2022’ and ‘2048: Nowhere to Run’, were made to tie-in to the world of ‘Blade Runner’. They were great. All 3 were of an ‘above average’ quality and were highly intriguing. After that…I was (cautiously) optimistic. So then this weekend hit…and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ hit with it. On Saturday…we hit back.
‘Blade Runner 2049’ takes place 30 years after the events of the first movie. We are introduced to an LAPD detective, or ‘Blade Runner’, named ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling). During a routine (but tense) ‘retirement’ of a rogue replicant named ‘Sapper Morton’ (Dave Bautista), ‘K’ stumbles upon something that threatens to spill a huge secret out into a run-down world already on edge of chaos due to a growing mistrust between the growing population of ‘safe’ replicants and the humans. As ‘K’s investigation deepens, he becomes a target in a plot by a reclusive blind billionaire genius named ‘Niander Wallace’ (Jared Leto) to also capitalize on this long-buried secret. It becomes a race against time to locate the one person who can shed light on the issue, former Blade Runner and now self-imposed exile, ‘Rick Deckard’ (Harrison Ford). Along the way, old questions are answered and new ones are posed.
This is a solid and gorgeous-looking sequel that does NOT embarrass the original film. In fact, it ties in beautifully and expands on that which we’ve already been introduced to in a way that feels organic and respectful.
My hunch turned out to be correct. Much like it’s 1982 predecessor, this film looks beautiful. The Production Design and the Cinematography clearly put in the Over-Time, because it’s a fully realized expansion of the ‘world’ we saw in the original and that was a treat to behold. Lots of sexy long shots that took their time showing us what it wanted us to see (as it seems you get from Denis Villeneuve films). There was also an elevated level of ‘grit’, which I’m ALWAYS a fan of. Even just the fat drops of rain or the rusty, banged-up surfaces or neon-drenched city streets…it was all cool to see.
The casting was great. Obviously it was nice to see Ford back…despite a VAST part of the 2 hour 40 minute run-time being Harrison Ford-less. With this one he seemed to actually be invested in the role, similar to how he treated his Star Wars: The Force Awakens return as ‘Han Solo’. In fact, I’d wager he GREATLY improved on his performance from the original movie, as this time he actually reacts and emotes to the things going on around him, as if he’s part of a story, not just part of someone’s masturbatory ‘painting with light’. Ryan Gosling (‘The Nice Guys’) was solid as ‘K’, despite a certain potential ‘twist’ with his character (which they hand the audience right off the bat) that I guessed just based on his name in the marketing material, before I’d even walked into the theatre. As the Main Character, he carried the story well and we were luckily not ‘talked down’ to by a potential additional ‘twist’ with his character that would’ve been ‘low hanging fruit’…that they DIDN’T go for. It would’ve been too easy, to the point of being almost insulting to the audience if they’d gone down THAT path. We also get Robin Wright (‘Wonder Woman’) as ‘Lt. Joshi’, ‘K’s foul-mouthed and concerned Commanding Officer. Leto got to play another dangerous weirdo (after his turn as ‘The Joker’ in ‘Suicide Squad’) and he did a good, if somewhat cartoonish, job with the character. We also get newer actresses Ana De Armas as a ‘Cherry 2000’-like domestic companion ‘program / hologram’ that becomes important to ‘K’ over the course of his harrowing adventure, and Silvia Hoeks as ‘Luv’, a very dangerous and determined operative for Leto’s ‘Niander’ character. Both were good in the parts and stood out with their very different performances.
Another aspect of 2049 that I liked was the expanding of everything…including the action. The original movie does have some action scenes, but they’re not what I typically remember. It’s a much more intimate story and therefore the action and violence are smaller scale. Not here. We get some riveting shoot-outs, bolstered by an insane sound design for the ‘Blaster’ handguns, along with not one but two violent missile attacks (complete with gorily exploding bodies!) and a high-speed flying car chase and stormy ocean crash. Oh, and a bone-crunching fist-fight or two. The movie may be long…but they do make a point to sprinkle a decent amount of kinetic violence around to keep things moving. I approved.
We saw it in 3D and I think it did add to the experience…just not too much. I didn’t find the 3rd dimension as immersive as I would’ve liked. It was definitely noticeable for scenes that involved particulants in the air, like rain or snow, and that was cool, but other sequences felt a little flat to me.
One thing that many fans of the original almost always come to is the iconic synth score by Greek composer Vangelis. ‘2049’ also embraces the large, booming audio aesthetic that is clearly an homage to the original, this time handled by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. MOST of the music worked, but there was one sound, a crazy distorted blaring siren sound that was blasted at a crazy volume in key scenes that had me (and the speakers in the theatre) wincing. Aside from that…the tunes worked.
All in all, I was braced for this unnecessary sequel (c’mon…just admit it…’Blade Runner’ didn’t NEED a sequel) to suck…but was pleasantly surprised when it actually turned out to be good. And it is. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a good sequel AND a good movie. It has a lot going for it. It looks gorgeous, is well acted, has an intriguing story to tell, seemingly appropriate connections to the original and a kick-ass production and sound design (not to mention one or two sweet surprise cameos from the original). There are a lot of interesting details in the ‘world’ and it feels like a tangible connection to the alternate-universe of 2019, as imagined in the first movie. If I had to complain, I’d say that the multitude of F-bombs dropped by Wright’s ‘Lt. Joshi’ character felt out of place and the fate of one key character felt completely forgotten and possibly found itself on the cutting room floor, as an abandoned plotline. Even though ‘2049’ was a long one, there was enough cool shit going on that I’d be genuinely curious to check out an Extended Director’s cut on Blu ray. Hell…this IS a ‘Blade Runner’ movie, so we can probably expect like, 4 or 5 different versions of the flick to get spat out by Warner Bros., over the next decade or so. To lovers of the original (which ever version is your jam) or to those who dig cool, intelligent science fiction movies that put the effort in, I can easily recommend this flick. Whether you see it in regular 2D or in the 3rd Dimension, this slick and beautifully composed movie deserves to be seen on The Big Screen. Go check it out and give it the attention it deserves!