(Photo via Warner Bros/Sony)
Blade Runner 2049 is the greatest science fiction film of this decade. It builds upon Ridley Scott‘s classic 1982 film Blade Runner, takes many of the great ideas that made that film as revered as it is, and built upon them and improved on the original. As a fan of the first film, Denis Villeneuve‘s sequel is vastly superior to the original. The story is much deeper than the original, there’s more heart and emotion at the core of this film, and the visual style of this film is unlike any you’ve seen to this point. It’s safe to say that Blade Runner 2049 is one of 2017’s very best films.
This new Blade Runner is set 30 years after the original, with Ryan Gosling playing the character of K, a blade runner who stumbles upon a case that requires him to track down Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who’s in hiding. And that’s all I can really tell you about this film’s synopsis without giving anything away.
Villeneuve directs a screenplay by original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fletcher with some rewrite work by Michael Green. Ridley Scott is involved with the film only as an executive producer, and his lack of involvement is crucial to how good this film is. I’m a huge Ridley Scott fan, but I know that if he were directing this film (which he initially was going to), he would’ve gotten lost in the story/mythology and wouldn’t have time to make a compelling movie (Alien: Covenant is a perfect example of Scott getting lost in his own mind). Villeneuve is one of this generation’s most exciting and freshest storytellers, with his English-language debut Prisoners being much more than a by-the-books kidnapping story, his border war epic Sicario being one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, and last year’s Arrival being a timely and thoughtful sci-fi epic. When it was announced that he was going to be doing the Blade Runner sequel, this wasn’t going to be just some cynical cashgrab by the studio to make a little money off of a 35-year-old film (judging by the numbers, the “cashgrab” part of the film’s success isn’t working out too well for them, unfortunately).
The original Blade Runner is a pretty standard film when you look at it on the surface. It’s a neo-noir crime thriller in the vein of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (or something along those lines) that just happens to be set in a dystopian future where the earth is dying and life beyond the stars is a opprotunity for only the wealthiest of people. The original does some pretty good world building, but Villeneuve goes even further with it, showing what the rest of the world (outside of Los Angeles) looks like into this dying, dystopian planet, where the seasons are so out of wack that it’s constantly raining or snowing in downtown Los Angeles (which for all you Los Angelinos would know is very, very far-fetched).
All of this is captured so beautifully thanks to Villeneuve’s world building and the cinematography of Roger Deakins, the greatest-living cinematographer. Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography work on the original Blade Runner is truly a marvel to look at (especially the 4K restoration of “The Final Cut” that was released about ten years ago), but Deakins brings something truly fresh and jaw-dropping to this film. This film is so pretty looking that you could watch the film muted and it would still have the same visual kick to it. Roger Deakins has been nominated for 13 Oscars and has never won the trophy, and hopefully his work on Blade Runner 2049 (which could very well be the best work of his career to date) will be the one to break that curse). From the muted colors of the city to the bright red colors of the desert and everything around it, this is one beautiful looking movie.
I haven’t even gotten to the performances, which are among some of the very best parts of Blade Runner 2049. Ryan Gosling does some of his very best screen-work to date as “K”, a character who has a much larger emotional arc than Harrison Ford‘s character in the original film that gives this character more of a heart and soul, and makes for a more compelling character and one that as an audience member, makes us feel more invested in him (and that’s all I’m going to say without diving into any spoilers). Speaking of Ford, he shows up, albeit not for too long, as Rick Deckard, and it’s some of the very best work of Ford’s late career recently. As I mentioned with his Han Solo performance in the most recent Star Wars film, it’s nice to see Ford actually acting and not phoning in his performance (which he’s had a tendency to do in the past with other films). Ford gives a nuanced, rugged, regretful and angry performance in this film, and one that might be good enough to get some awards attention later on in the year (just sayin’…).
One of my biggest problems with the original Blade Runner was how it treated the women of that universe. Every female character in the original was either a prostitute or a replicant (disguised as a prostitute) that were all murdered very violently in the film. And then there’s Sean Young‘s character Rachel, who served as Harrison Ford’s love interest, but the way that relationship was portrayed in the original was never developed fully, certain scenes between the two don’t translate very well 35 years later (I think you’d cringe like I did when you re watch the scene of Deckard forcing Rachel into having sex with him). In Blade Runner 2049, we have the character of Joi (Ana de Armas) which serves as a bit of a Rachel-type character to Ryan Gosling’s character, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), a replicant who’s the assistant of Jared Leto‘s Mr. Tyrell-esque character, and Lt. Joshi, K’s boss at the LAPD. If I had to find one problem with Blade Runner 2049, it would be the lack of strong female characters in the film. Women in this universe are still treated like objects (most of the female characters are replicants), and it would’ve been nice to have seen maybe even a strong female lead in the role instead of Ryan Gosling, but that’s another argument for another piece.
I think it’s safe to say that this new Blade Runner sequel is one of this year’s very best films, and one of this century’s best science fiction films. Denis Villeneuve has crafted a unique, ambitious, quiet and thought-provoking epic that builds upon and improves many of the problems of the original Blade Runner. It’s one of the greatest sequels ever made, and it’s one of the greatest films of this decade, period. This new Blade Runner might not be your cup of tea (If you were bored to death by the first one, you might find this film to be a little slow), but for fans of thought-provoking and groundbreaking science fiction filmmaking (which is rare for a big Hollywood sequel to be), I think you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of this new Blade Runner.