We’re going to need to be careful with this Blade Runner 2049 review, folks. I’ve never attended a press screening with more rules provided before and after as to what I can and can’t say about the story, characters, or the movie itself. Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners, Sicario) put a ton of time into this project, and he doesn’t want any of that effort spoiled by overzealous critics. A few either didn’t get the memo or ignored it, so be careful what you read over the next 24 hours.
I don’t begrudge Villeneuve for his requests, and lucky for him, I’m adept at avoiding spoilers, but still writing readable reviews. He’s also accurate in his assessment that there are several big secrets contained within the film that should be part of the experience for anyone that buys a ticket to see Blade Runner 2049. Thus, I’m treading lightly, so let’s tiptoe very carefully through the dystopia and discuss this terrific work of science fiction.
Yes, what you’ve seen in terms of the vague review scores across the board is accurate. This is a great film, although I’m probably not quite as big a fan as some in the media. It’s more just a preference thing, and it’s about level, not overall enjoyment. The big hurdle Villeneuve knew he had to clear entering this universe was this isn’t Star Wars or Star Trek. As big a cult classic as the 1981 Blade Runner film was, there remained a multitude of people that had never even heard of it until they saw Ryan Gosling pop up in the trailer.
Many of you reading this right now have never seen the original, don’t know that it’s an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s famous Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep short story, and aren’t aware of how widely acclaimed this movie has become across the board in film circles. There is a veritable library out there to read about the franchise, about it’s lore, theories about its conclusion, and also about how critics were mixed originally, but then would come along later after it was the popular place to be.
Blade Runner wasn’t, and still isn’t an easy film to watch. A plethora of slow, moody sequences without much action and moments where it’s difficult to stay awake aren’t germane to Blade Runner alone, but they certainly existed within it. And, in 1982, science fiction was much more straightforward than it is today. There were no Christopher Nolans, no Guillermo Del Toros, no Ronald D. Moores, and film structure, outside of Stanley Kubrick, was relatively basic.
That’s not the case in 2017, so Denis Villeneuve, who definitely enjoys exhausting his viewers with darkness, with emotion, and with viscerally arresting movies, had a wide open landscape in which to tell volume two of this epic story about human beings and the Replicants they built for the purposes of slavery. So, why should you or anyone unfamiliar with the story care now if you never have before?
Ask the same question about Mad Max: Fury Road, and you’ll have your answer. Full disclosure, I wasn’t a big fan of the Tom Hardy-Charlize Theron vehicle, as I largely found it boring and uninteresting, with an exceedingly flimsy and simple plot. I was in the VAST minority, but the example applies here because most people that saw it had never seen its predecessors, and it didn’t matter in the least.
While that franchise required far less exposition than Blade Runner, Villeneuve is able to get enough of the past across through several lines of text just before the movie begins, and it generally becomes less necessary to know the story and history of Rick Deckard (Ford).
That said, it does help if you know a little bit ahead of time, because many of the movie’s best moments are directly related to the original, and some of the nostalgic charm or the “that was cool” of Blade Runner 2049 will be lost for the uninitiated. But you’ll like it anyway. Trust me.
The condensed version of the Blade Runner story is that in the future (at the time, the year is 2019), Deckard was an ex-LAPD officer hired to hunt down synthetic humans known as Replicants, following a widespread rebellion that occurred as the pseudo-humans became aware of their captivity. They desired their own lives, and wanted to be free. There were different models, with different life spans, and a process also emerged to implant memories into the Replicants in order to make them less cognizant of their own artificiality.
Rick befriends a Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young), deals with a few others, including Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) that are merely trying to survive, and he and Rachael fall into some version of love. Their relationship throws Deckard’s belief structure and certainly his mission as a Blade Runner (the name for those officially hunting the Replicants) into disarray. There are degrees and tinges of paranoia, fear of technology, and social context underlying the surface narrative.
Decades later, as Blade Runner 2049 begins, a new Blade Runner, nicknamed “K” (Gosling) works on behalf of military supervisors (Robin Wright) and shadowy corporations (Jared Leto), somewhat unknowingly, attempting to extinguish various Replicants. Villeneuve’s movie is exceedingly drab in color, as most of his work is, and here it plays to the effect of the original movie. Both were known for vivid colors and technology giving way to greys, blacks, and bleak whites. The sequel is no different, and that’s as it should be. This is not a “happy” movie, though there is some hope behind the veil.
It’s definitely a long movie, on the north side of 160 minutes, but very little of the screen time is wasted. Villeneuve did his absolute best not to shortchange the audience, and one of 2049‘s biggest successes is that there’s much more plot here than most people will be expecting. This is not an ordinary science fiction movie, and it’s one concerned with fully explaining everything taking place. That said, you’ll be confused at times by what you’re seeing. My advice is to keep watching, don’t overthink it, and recognize that what needs to make sense will come into focus before it’s over.
Visually, this behemoth is gorgeous, stunning, and a treat. It’s not always pleasant, but it’s impossible to deny, and you won’t want to look away. With the possible exception of Dunkirk, it’s in a technical class by itself in 2017, and nothing last year comes close either. This is a beautifully-rendered dystopia, and the use of sound is employed to dramatic, powerful effect. The crashes and bangs are loud, as are the unsettling tones of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. When more traditional soundtrack music is used, it’s welcomed, and at times it provides psychological relief from the heavy nature of the proceedings.
Does it stick the landing? Absolutely. In fact, I would argue that the “big” decision was masterful, as it takes a sharp left turn instead of the anticipated right, and sends the audience barreling into the passenger-side door. Make sure you’re wearing a seat belt during this film, because it’s a ride. Just as it was in the original, you won’t find constant action, and it moves from locale to locale in a deliberate way, but not at a pace at all concerned with filling each second with gunfire or explosions. This is the thinking man’s science fiction film, and that’s a good thing.
There’s so much here. The acting is terrific, beginning with Gosling, who plays “K” with flawless, stunted emotion. Harrison Ford is Harrison Ford, which means he’s awesome. He’s always awesome, especially in these kind of roles. And this is one of his three most beloved characters of all time. Sylvia Hoeks is cold and terrifying, which is precisely what she needed to be.
Ana De Armas is phenomenal in her role, which I’ll let you discover for yourself. Wright and Leto are both excellent, as are many others I won’t mention in order to preserve the novelty for you. We’ve also reached a place with Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Black Mirror: San Junipero) where if she’s in it, it’s probably worth seeing. Her character is fairly minor, but thematically important in Blade Runner 2049, and she, as always, is fantastic.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. My A- rating might be a half step beneath some of my colleagues, on par with others, but this is a spectacular movie. A- is still in “amazing” territory. It’s one of the best sci-fi experiences in ages, one of the finest sequels you’ll ever see, and a blockbuster in every sense of the word. I didn’t have quite as much fun watching it as something like The Force Awakens, mainly because of familiarity and approachability, but there’s no doubt this is a “better” overall film. It’s a more difficult movie to qualify, due to its scope, and I probably need to see it a few more times to fully grasp it in all its glory.
I’ve never watched one of his films twice though, and that may be the case again here.
But, that first watch is a doozy.
Villeneuve has done longtime fans of both the franchise and his own work proud, and he’s put another notch on an already impressive resume. He has quickly become one of the best directors anywhere on the planet, although one of these days, he’s going to make a movie that doesn’t make require a nap or a long exhale afterwards. This thing is lengthy, it’s intense, and it’s extremely tiring. But, as with all of his movies, it’s because you’re so invested in what’s happening.
Blade Runner 2049 will become an instant classic, and will earn its share of hardware. I don’t see any acting nominations on the Academy Award level, although there is increasing speculation for one performance in particular. I do see some Golden Globe nods, as well as accolades from many other award shows. On a technical level, it may rake in an Oscar or two. Deservedly so, as it will blow your mind.
Parents, be aware this is an R rated film, featuring some nudity and gritty violence, and just as the original was, it might be inappropriate for your children. The biggest reason isn’t the content, but the depth of the story and the way it’s told. Kids simply won’t be able to adequately appreciate or understand what’s happening. It will frighten them as well. If it were me, I’d get a babysitter, then promise we’d watch it together at home a few years down the road.
I hesitate to say that, only because this gem should be seen on the biggest, loudest, most insane theater you can find. It’s one of those, where how you see it can take even something this good to the next level.
For fans of science fiction and big screen epics, Blade Runner 2049 is a complete experience. I wondered why we would need a sequel to a film from 35 years ago, but then I saw this one, and I immediately understood. We may not have needed it, but we’re better for it. It will dominate the box office for weeks, it’s a work of art, and it’s definitely a trip into the future that you should not miss.
I’m @JMartOutkick. It’s too bad I won’t live. But then again, who does?