Review – Blade Runner 2049

starstarstarstar

A sequel to the 1982 Blade Runner has been in the works for over a decade at this point. In a time where it seemed like every major property from the 1980s, from Die Hard to Indiana Jones, was getting pulled out of the attic for one more installment, Blade Runner was always a title that came up as the one that might be next. While there was always some excitement at the idea of another Blade Runner movie, there was trepidation as well, and plenty of it. Blade Runner, wasn’t exactly the action sci-fi type of movie that easily lent itself to a sequel. Methodical and ponderous, Blade Runner has just as many shots of it’s hero looking contemplative as it does action scenes. Add in an ambiguous ending, and at least five different versions of the movie, it’s easy to see why a sequel to this movie would be a bad idea. Fortunately, Blade Runner 2049 not only ends up being a great movie, in many ways it figured out how to be the perfect sequel for a movie like the original Blade Runner.

The studio has done it’s very best to keep as much of this movie shrouded in mystery as possible. The trailers don’t give away more than a hint of the story and surprisingly enough Blade Runner 2049 has been the subject of one of the strictest critic embargoes in recent memory, limiting what characters and plot points could be talked about, or how they could be talked about. If you want to go into the movie knowing as little as possible, know this: It’s good. It’s long but it’s worth it. And it’s visually astounding. Try to see it on the biggest screen you possibly can.

Like the first movie Blade Runners, are special enforcers designated to hunt down and “retire” androids who look like humans, or replicants.  In the thirty years since the events of the first film, replicants have been integrated into society and are co-existing with the human population much better than they were in the first film. K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner working with the LAPD who is assigned to “retire” the rouge older models who don’t fit into this newer outlook on the world. During a fairly routine “retirement,” K uncovers information that could easily disrupt the way that humans and replicants have been able to exist. Honestly, to give away more than that, starts to get into spoiler territory, though it’s no secret that K’s hunt leads him to Deckard, a retired Blade Hunter played by Harrison Ford who is reprising the role from the original movie.

Part of what is so interesting about Blade Runner 2049 is how it works as sequel to the first movie. This isn’t a rehash or even much of a continuation of the story told in the first movie. Instead this is closer to a story that exists in the Blade Runner universe. Much of the story is based around an event that happened in 2020 shortly after the events of the first movie. While there are story lines that continue from the first movie, this event that took place between the two movies has a much greater impact on the plot than the events of the first movie. This movie feels like it’s exploring an evolution or a natural progression of the ideas and themes that are presented in the first movie. We get a feel that time has passed, and things have changed. This isn’t the world of the first movie any more than we are living in the world of 1987 today. The film is able to create a sense of time moving forward.

Director Denis Villeneuve already has demonstrated his ability to direct a contemplative sci-fi story with last year’s Arrival. With Blade Runner 2049 he’s topped his previous work. It would have been easy to make a safe movie, one that does everything it can to keep from tarnishing the name of the first one. But Villeneuve works to create a bold, new movie, one that is able to overcome the shadow of the first movie while keeping the tone of the movie consistent with what’s come before.

Like the original, it’s hard to call this a sci-fi action movie. Yes there are a handful of fights here and there, but the movie has big ideas to present and these are the focus. Ideas about life, and what it means to be human, or to have a soul. What makes us who we are? Why do we do the things we do? These aren’t easy questions and the movie takes its time exploring them. At well over two and a half hours, this movie has a weight to it. You feel the runtime, but not in a bad way. Despite it’s butt-numbing runtime, the movie never feels like it’s dragging. It’s slow at times, but it’s deliberate. The pace of the movie is dictated by the themes that the movie wants to explore.

Walking away from the movie, the thing that sticks out the most though it visually how it appears on the screen. The slower pace of parts of the movie leave plenty of time for you to take in how gorgeously shot the movie is. There are long, lingering shots of the LA skyline, that you take in the crowded landscape with buildings crammed into every corner. The landscapes appear almost alien and even with plenty of time lingering on these wide shots, it doesn’t feel like enough. The scope and scale of the world presented by the movie are on full display, beautifully coming to life in each scene. This is a movie that was made to be seen on the biggest screen available. Though it’s a strong enough movie to hold up during many repeat viewings, something will be lost when this movie is watched in a living room.

Blade Runner 2049 is a masterclass in how to create a sequel. It’s exists in and honors the world established by the original, yet it doesn’t force itself to fall in line with the first movie. Nobody ever mentions the “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.” The off world colonies are mentioned, but never visited. Blade Runner 2049 stands on its own. Villeneuve is able to put his own creative touch on the world creating something unique. It’s strikes the same tone as the first movie, but doesn’t rehash the same topics. This movie hits the cords that the original first touched upon. Walking out of this movie, it’s easy feel the way audiences felt watching the first movie in 1982, and now knowing that feeling, it’s easy to see how Blade Runner has achieved its now iconic status.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,