Blade Runner: 2049 Review

I’ve Seen Things…

Daunting is an understatement when it comes to making a sequel to one of the most beloved cult-classic’s, that also happens to be a groundbreaking masterpiece. However, with such an impossible task, a director known to take impossible risks can take the mantle. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario/Prisoners/Arrival) and frequent legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins have achieved the impossible…and then some.

The year is 2049. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one of a new generation of Blade Runners assigned to “Retire”(Kill) Replicants – artificial human-being’s. Thing’s become even more complicated when K uncovers a deeper mystery that leads him seeking out old Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) for help. The premise looks simple at first glance, but more layers are unveiled as the story goes along. Much like the first film, 2049 has a slow, deliberate pace that is felt over the course of its over two-hour 32 minute run-time.

Villeneuve uses this time to flesh-out each character, and make the audience feel invested. Whether he’s letting the audience get to know K and Joi’s (Ana De Armas) – K’s lover – relationship; reporting to his boss Joshi (Robin Wright). Even showing Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his new breed of replicants titled “angels.”

Each character has their own part to play in the film, even if they’re not on screen as long as others. Specifically Wallace, who has minimal screen-time yet has a presence that is felt looming over the entire film. The addition of a henchman – or in this case woman – named Luv played by Sylvia Hoeks adds to this increased threat. Hoeks is one of the standouts in 2049. Being the perfect “angel.” Her cold, ruthless demeanor and cunning make for an exciting villain.

As for Harrison Ford, much of the film is without him. Which is appreciated since the core story is very much K’s. When he does arrive – much later in the third act – his presence is felt, even if you haven’t seen the first film. A bit of a side-note; watching the original isn’t required to understand 2049, but it does help in understanding certain parts better. With 2049 Ford may have given his best performance to date. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and you really feel for Deckard. His acting never feels phoned-in , instead Deckard plays out like a man trying to survive in this harsh world.

In many ways, 2049 feels like a love letter from Denis honoring the past film, all while making it his own. Like the first film, it’s an acquired taste. Much like a fine wine, the movie relies on personal reflection, and self-evaluation. The cinematography is a contributing factor that aides in visually telling the story. Master cinematographer Roger Deakins might have made his most beautiful film to date with 2049. Practically every frame is oozing with life. Whether it’s the neon-soaked skyline of L.A. and its grimy streets, or the dust storm look of Las Vegas. Deakins has created one of the most visually arresting films I have ever seen.

Every element of 2049 works well together. By taking the themes form the original about what it means to be human, to love, and survive. 2049 builds on these themes while also digging deeper. It’s very poetic. In a world that’s filled with replicants and decay there are themes of beauty found throughout. Even the evolution of technology since the first has slowly improved; not radically, but realistic enough that it would make sense of the thirty-year span.

The only slight downside to the film is its score. Taking over for Jóhann Jóhannsson is Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. Both composers do their best with the short time they had composing the film. Yet despite some small moments in the film, it doesn’t really live up to the iconic score created by Vangelis years ago. Another thing that may be off-putting to some is how cold the movie is; and I don’t mean temperature. It’s a slow-burn of a detective noir film. There’s little to no humor. Keep this in mind before going to see 2049.

Verdict

With a living, breathing atmosphere, strong direction from Denis Villeneuve and oscar-worthy cinematographer from Roger Deakins. Blade Runner 2049 improves upon the original, all while standing alone.

9.5/10

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