35 years ago, Blade Runner hit theaters and became a cult hit later on video after failing at the box office. In the process, it became one of the most influential science fiction films of all time. Now, Director Denis Villeneuve along with original Screenwriter Hampton Fancher, (as well as co-writer Michael Green), present Blade Runner 2049, a sequel that takes place 30 years later. Does 2049 live up to the first film’s legacy or does it find a way to surpass it?
I’m not going to delve into the plot of this one, because I don’t want to give anything away. All you need to know is that Ryan Gosling plays a new Blade Runner—a cop that hunts down synthetic humans known as Replicants. During the course of a case, he makes a discovery that could shake the foundations of society. You’ll definitely enjoy this film much more if you’ve seen the original—there are several different cuts available, but it doesn’t really matter which you watch—but it’s not necessary to see it before watching 2049. The new film stands well enough on its own and presents a far more compelling story than the one found in the original film.
I’m a big fan of the original Blade Runner. Yes, the story is kind of lacking, but I enjoyed the performances—especially of Rutger Hauer—and absolutely loved the world that Director Ridley Scott created. The look of Blade Runner has been imitated in so many different forms of science fiction, it becomes easy to forget where the dystopian metropolis look originally came from. With Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve and his team expand on everything that made the original great and improve upon it. It looks like a natural extension of how that world would look thirty years later. The attention to detail is astonishing and Villeneuve never over-explains anything. Certain things, like the condition of the environment are not explained, they just are and the audience can make their own inferences as to what went wrong. Another area where the world-building feels natural is in the case of the Replicants themselves. The artificial humans have gone through their own evolution and become a more docile slave class thanks to industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). The film really delves into the themes only touched upon in the original film, about the Replicants and what exactly classifies a human as human. It’s smart science fiction, which is rare to find in Hollywood these days. There’s plenty of action, but Villeneuve is more interested in immersing the audience in the world of Blade Runner as opposed to making the film a non-stop action fest. This may lead some audience members to become bored over the film’s two hour and forty-five minute runtime. However, you’ll be well-rewarded by the cinematography of Roger Deakins, who should finally get that elusive Oscar for the work he’s done here. See this film in IMAX, where Deakins’ photography completely sucks you in. The pictures he composes are absolutely gorgeous. That also goes for the film’s score composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The score evokes Vangelis’ work on the original film, but expands on it, as the film itself expands on the world and concepts. Most thought that a sequel to Blade Runner would be impossible, but despite all odds, Denis Villeneuve has delivered another classic, taking his place as one of the modern greats.
The cast is fantastic. Gosling is an intriguing lead and his arc throughout the film is great. Ana de Armas is a ray of sunshine as Joi, Gosling’s love interest. She and Gosling have great chemistry together and their relationship is very interesting to say the least. Robin Wright is tough and no-nonsense as Gosling’s boss, Joshi. Not as calculating as Claire Underwood, but her performance is just as strong as her work on House of Cards. Jared Leto’s performance is definitely eccentric, but that makes sense for his character, Wallace, the man who basically controls the world. He’s also quite menacing. His right-hand woman, Luv, is played to devious perfection by Sylvia Hoeks. She’s so badass, it’s nuts. Mackenzie Davis is also really good as Mariette, a Replicant “pleasure model” that crosses paths with Gosling. I was also impressed with Dave Bautista’s performance. He’s been good as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, but as Sapper, he finds new levels of emotion to tap into. Check out the short film 2048: Nowhere to Run to get a better look at Bautista and his character. And then there’s Harrison Ford, reprising his role as Rick Deckard from the original film. Even though I have loved seeing Ford and Gosling’s great interactions and camaraderie in their press interviews, I’m in the camp that believes Ford’s role should have been kept under wraps. It would have made his reveal that much more surprising and powerful. Ford knocks this performance out of the park. He has been accused of looking like he doesn’t care in many of his movies as of late, but you can see he gives his all here. It shows that if given the right material, Harrison Ford will show up and deliver. Don’t be shocked if he gets a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars. He may be a long shot, as sci-fi is generally ignored by the Oscars, but it’s a definite possibility.
Here’s the long and the short of it: Blade Runner 2049 is better, yes better, than the original. The original Blade Runner will always be a classic touchstone for science fiction fans, but with a superior script and a deeper exploration of the themes of what makes us human, Blade Runner 2049 is superior in every way. It’s an extremely beautiful film about an ugly world that demands to be seen on the big screen. It is long and some may find it boring at times, but I say you take those opportunities to drink in the spectacular visuals. It’s one of the best films of the year and in a year like 2017, that’s saying a lot.