In 1982, Ridley Scott released a studio butchered version of Blade Runner-a sci fi neo noir film that had artistic, philosophical and meditative potential ruined by a studio wanting an action flick. Only in 2006 with the Final Cut of Blade Runner (even the Director’s Cut isn’t the full vision) did we get Scott’s fully intended vision and it stands as both one of the most influential sci fi films ever, one of the best…but also one of the best films of all time. That came with Scott’s instinctual style of experimental formalism and gradual interest in the meaning and world he created than the basic plot-making a story and thematic narrative that was something you meditated on and questioned in experience rather than simply watched. 35 Years later…we get a highly anticipated, budgeted and desired sequel…and it’s awesome.
Coming to us from director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins (who both gave us the impressive Prisoners and Sicario) and playing to their strengths creates one of the best movie sequels ever akin to The Empire Strikes Back, The Winter Soldier, Godfather Part 2, The Dark Knight and Mad Max Fury Road. It continues its predecessor’s meditative style, but uses modern technology to up a notch. It refuses to delve into action heavy spectacle like Jurassic World or The Force Awakens, and might just be the biggest art-house film since Cloud Atlas.
Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the original, where Blade Runner (and stated upfront) Replicant “K”, played by Ryan Gosling (who is one of my favourite actors) who in a routine mission to eliminate certain illegal Replicants stumbles across something that begins to reveal a domino effects about Humans, Replicants and Blade Runners. The story itself is classic noir: a detective whose mostly only good at taking a beating, finding barely existent clues and earning the wrong attention gets into a scenario way over his head. The story itself isn’t the exactly interesting part, there was a point where I was worried it was going to make an easily boring twist…but subverted it thankfully and avoided classic blockbuster “Chosen One” story potential for…yes that classic noir style. Now to some who say “there’s no real plot” …yeah…neither did the original…did you miss that? Did you miss how most noir films have a pretty bog standard plot? Because Noir is not about overly complex plots (considering how basic Memento and Usual Suspects are when you break them down) but about exploring an environment, thematic interest or deconstructionist ideals. Blade Runner was that, Blade Runner 2049 is also that. Both films have really basic plots that more or less around for meditative explorations on the concepts of humanity, feelings, identity, love, social hierarchies and social decay. I feel like there’s a decent chunk of people missing or forgetting that and have mostly absorbed Blade Runner through Osmosis and the Cultural Zeitgeist. Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 both have slow quiet parts with little action or dialogue and just let you breathe in the world and thematic questions…don’t’ critics usually hate movies for NOT doing this?
In acting terms: Ryan Gosling is phenomenal. Considering movies like Drive, Blue Valentine and The Big Short-he’s easily become one of the best actors this generation. His restrained moments to powerhouse actions are truly spectacular to see, and while he’s not as engaging as Harrison Ford’s Rick Dekard in the original-he’s still great. Speaking of which: yes, Harrison Ford is great in this-but I wont’ speak too much on him. Every other performer here is great from newcomers like Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks-to some returning players. All around, highly impressive acting.
But yeah-even haters of this film cannot deny that it’s easily one of the best looking films EVER. Seriously: Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Sicario, Arrival) and Roger Deakins (Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall) has used old and new technology to create the new Gold standard for what blockbuster filmmaking should be. Joining the ranks of visually masterful blockbusters like Mad Max Fury Road, Pacific Rim, Tron Legacy, 300, The Matrix and Heat. Every big blockbuster touting a massive budget has to now live in this film’s shadow and that may seem unfair…but COME ON! The imagery, angles, movement, direction, colour, effects, lighting …it all meshes so well and tells the story it’s supposed to. It’s not Michael Bay’s sometimes contradictory amazing visuals versus the script tonal dissonance visual in the first Transformers films. it’s purposeful and calculated. Not to mention that matching score from Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Dark Knight) and Benjamin Wallfisch (A Cure for Wellness, It ) who’ve easily created the a score worthy of the original and might be the most haunting score besides Under the Skin and Sicario. Everything in this is technical mastery, near artistic perfection and what I think is one of the new examples of “This is cinema, this is why it’s awesome”.
And in terms of its mood, atmosphere, pacing and world: the film feels more like a 60’s Dystopian sci fi film like Soylent Green, and epic sci fi like 2001: A Space Odyssey (yes I went there). It’s not here to answer questions: especially not the main one from the end of Blade Runner, it’s here to ask and be experienced. It never divulges into a generic action film, instead making its action brutal and nasty like a Neill Blomkamp film-like a noir should. Themes of exploitation, social control, profit over freedom and classism step into this film rather successfully. And yes, it can be a slog at 160 Minutes (not much longer than Heat, The Godfather, The Dark Knight, Zodiac) and yes it plays it quiet and moody as an art-house film…but isn’t that great? A film that reward patience, thought and engaging in its world. I’m trying to think of people hating it and trying to imaging why: because it didn’t’ answer your questions? Because it didn’t’ become an action popcorn fest? (Despite it creating a memorable action set piece) or because it was a big 185 million dollar film and you interpreted that as “must be an action blockbuster”? I don’t really know. I just find this film to be genuinely spectacular and a puzzle and question I’m still thinking on longer than I did on Mother! (and that was crazier). It’s a slower film than most yes, but I like it for that-I get to sink into a world instead of letting it blur past. And it least it wasn’t The Hunger Games or Divergent films where they just focused on the main boring characters for a bunch of needlessly long films and barely showing the potentially interesting world…because that’s lame blockbuster filmmaking. And plush: it’s noir…noir explores the world and not as much its main character or plot-genre consistency.
In terms of actual issues: well the ending isn’t as classic as the original (because this one doesn’t’ have an improvised Rutger Hauer speech that was basically accidental-like most of the film) but it did make me tear up at the very last shot considering this film and the prior film’s events. Occasionally there’s a somewhat blatant line…but it’s still great. The thing I want to ask of people-is to experience the film as a whole and to look and see the world and film in-between its moments of plot (which is what makes the amazing mood and tone shared by the original) and to ask-isn’t this what you wanted the 2017 Ghost in the Shell film to be? Blade Runner influenced the original 1995 anime classic, making that Ghost in the Shell an art house meditative sci fi masterpiece…and the Ghost in the Shell 2017 was what Blade Runner 2049 could’ve been-a decent if forgettable action film that repurposes the original rather than really grow. Blade Runner showed me that could’ve happened and I’m happy it did. This is the kind of film that I want to (and will) end up making.
I get it may not fit everyone (as I’ve seen) but you must see this. If not for the talent, or the genre, or run time, or execution: at least see it to support Hollywood taking chances and making films that RESPECT YOU AS HUMANS…as opposed to lame garbage like Pirates of the Caribbean 5 or King Arthur or The Mummy.
It’s my 3rd favourite film of the year and I only think Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water can beat that.