“Blade Runner 2049” Movie Review


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     Each and every element one would expect in a ground breaking original science fiction film are present in director Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049”, even when considering the film is a sequel to an outright classic, 1982’s “Blade Runner”, beloved by all and credited with being one of the most influential films of our time.  I’ve written countless reviews in which I either lambasted a film for being to liberal in its use of the imagery “Blade Runner” made famous, or simply pointing out the obvious influence behind the filmmaker’s vision.  The neat thing about Villeneuve’s vision for “2049”, is because he is making a sequel, he has full artistic license to use what ever he wants from the first film and not risk being accused of ripping off what made the first film a classic.  It’s actually what we would expect, but we also want Villeneuve, the director behind several critically successful recent films such as “Prisoners”, “Sicario”, and “Arrival”, to expand on “Blade Runner” lore and show us an intelligent and thought provoking take on what transpired in that universe over the last 30 years.  Villeneuve has not only done this at a high level, he has also created a film that will likely be viewed as a classic in its own right.

     Villeneuve acknowledges the time lapse between the two films by allowing for a 2 hour 43 minute run time, which is used primarily to flesh out the film’s most important characters in a way that will ensure the desired emotional response when certain points of their arcs are reached.  This, of course, is storytelling 101, but is often missed entirely in today’s most mainstream films.  Take a look at a film directed by Michael Bay or Zach Snyder and time the average edit, where you will find cuts that occur nearly every second, leaving the audience unable to read the emotions on a character’s face or get a good look at anything for that matter.  In “2049”, Villeneuve lets us see his characters up close and from far away during long scenes that allow us to begin to be able to read them and exactly what they are thinking from deep inside.  We understand their agendas, but we also know their feelings, and why they make the decisions that shape the thrust of the story.  

     Working again with famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, Villeneuve has created a startling vision of Los Angeles of which these characters occupy, landscaped with a similar over crowded industrial look used in the first film, but with a number of interesting new details which indicate 30 years forward, even though the results could be argued as having gone backward.  When we first meet K (Ryan Gosling), he’s told over the radio in his police spinner to hurry back so as to avoid the storm.  At that point, I was wondering “Storm? what storm?”.  As it turns out, in this future, our continual environmental ignorance has led to the once sunny and warm confines of Southern California now yielding to the icy decay and darkness of snow.  It makes you wonder what the rest of the country looks like since it still appears people are continuing to crowd the area in mass, with tall buildings over looking vast underworlds in a sprawling metropolis featuring massive holograms that once again promise a better life in the off world colonies.

     Blade Runners are cops who work for the LAPD charged with hunting down Replicants, human like robots who were originally designed to work as slaves to build those very colonies that we perceive as being the ultimate alternative to what has become a dreary and seemingly hopeless life on Earth.  Working from a script by original “Blade Runner” scribe Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, Villeneuve has come up with quite an interesting take on what occurred since the original film that results in the events depicted in “2049”.  We are told of a catastrophe in which all of the world’s data is lost in the year 2022 (the original film took place in 2019), with the likely perpetrators being the Nexus 8 Replicants recently manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation who were given normal lifespans unlike the Nexus 6 Replicants who topped out at 4 years.

     Given the circumstances, Replicants were permanently outlawed in every capacity, leaving the Tyrell Corporation to go bankrupt.  Years later, a successful scientist and businessman named Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), said to be responsible for helping save the population after the data loss, uses the technology left behind by Tyrell and creates the Nexus 9 which he touts as being so obedient that they are unable to harm a human being.  As is depicted in one of the three short films that were debuted shortly before “2049” being released, Wallace is successful in having the ban on Replicants lifted in 2036 and has now perfected the Nexus 9 technology that we see in “2049”. 

     In addition, people are now able to have full on relationships with intelligent and lifelike holograms, which is the current scenario we see as we delve into K’s life as a Blade Runner when he comes home from work each night to a waiting Joi (Ana de Armas) who lovingly provides him with the perfect mate after the often brutal days spent chasing the last of the world’s Nexus 8 Replicants.  And you may have heard that Harrison Ford’s original Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, returns as well, and he does, but the film is far from being about him and what he's been doing for the past 30 years.  Instead, Villeneuve focuses on K, utilizing many of the themes the characters in the first film consistently struggled with, but also the mystery behind a strange find at the home of a Nexus 8 Replicant he dispatches early in the film.  There is also the nefarious agenda of Wallace and his Replicant assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) in the background that propels K into a investigation not only into his own origins, but also into the ruins of San Diego and eventually to a desolate and deserted Las Vegas.

     The landscapes are gorgeous to the say the least, and stand on their own when compared to the original as a further exploration of the same universe.  Whereas “Blade Runner” was confined to the underbelly of Los Angeles, “2049” expands its surroundings and allows the characters to travel greater distances in slick new versions of the police vehicles seen in the original that indicate a significant advance in technology while still remaining similar in style and familiarity.  And though the design is certainly breathtaking, it’s the story and characters who standout, giving us one of the most deeply personal character portrayals of the last decade.  K is so thoroughly dissected that we know nearly everything about his job, his personality, and his relationships.  The same can also be said for several of the supporting characters which includes K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), as well as the aforementioned holographic girl friend, Joi, who blossoms into a full fledged meaningful character without us realizing it.

     For those of us old enough to remember, “Blade Runner” was a film that was not immediately embraced when it debuted in theaters.  Only the advent of VHS and the ability to rediscover films in the comfort of your own home invigorated the merits of the film and the status it enjoys as being such an influential classic today.  Given the fact mainstream audiences typically steer toward films that are easier to digest and require minimal thought, “Blade Runner 2049” will likely suffer in much the same way the original did, but also is certain to garner plenty of awards attention, particularly for Deakins work, as well as the production design by Dennis Gassner, and the score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. And Villeneuve has clearly delivered his best film to date, an accomplishment that should be given notice by the Academy, given his previous work and the task at hand here in created a sequel to a film like “Blade Runner” and the expectations that instantly come with it.  Gosling too, following up his Oscar nominated performance in last year’s “La La Land”, deserves notice for his moving performance as a cop caught in the middle of something much bigger than himself, in a film that transports you to a hypnotic wonderland of a bleak future that is every bit as powerful as its predecessor.  GRADE: A