Blade Runner 2049 Review
Finally after three and a half decades fans of Blade Runner have their sequel – Blade Runner 2049. This time directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Ryan Gosling as K and Harrison Ford as Deckard. Learning there was a sequel in the works gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand I wanted to experience Ridley Scott’s neon-lit dystopian world again. On the other I did not want the original to be diminished. That has not happened, in fact, I believe this movie blows away the original. No movie is perfect, just like the first Blade Runner this movie is a slow burn. Therein I am finding the only significant fault.
The story (no spoilers)
I want this review to be mostly spoiler-free. For those who have resisted the urge to look up summaries of the plot should have a chance to watch Blade Runner 2049 with just the expectations created by the trailers. So what is the movie about? Set in 2049 the world has changed, probably not for the better. After an incident in 2022 called The Blackout in which all electronic records were destroyed replicants were officially banned. Sometime during 2030s industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has taken over the remnants of the Tyrrell Corporation. A new series of replicants is produced, this time more docile and more closely observed than ever before.
Agent K (played by Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, just like Deckard, and is tasked with hunting down rogue replicants. At the start of the movie K is pursuing a group of old Nexus 7 and 8 models – the last created before The Blackout. This pursuit will set him on a course to uncover revelations. I won’t say much more about the plot – scribbling down more lines trying to explain it won’t do justice to experiencing it first-hand. However, I believe Blade Runner 2049 is amongst the best sequels ever to be released. The film is in full communion with the original and yet manages to convincingly set out on its own without diminishing the original movie. My hat goes off to screenplay writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green.
Blade Runner 2049 can lean on a stellar cast. Ryan Gosling portrays Agent K with a cool and consistent vibe. Ana de Armas as Joi plays a big role in K’s life and creates an entirely new meta for what is real and not. The supporting cast is extensive and each has a vital role – often misinforming the viewer into what direction the movie is headed. Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi of the LAPD does well to emulate the grit of M. Emmet Walsh’s Bryant. Sylvia Hoeks cold portrayal of Luv – Wallace’s henchwoman overshadows that of Jared Leto’s portrayal of Niander Wallace. I could keep on writing on how wonderful all of the cast was, but here I do hit upon a flaw in Blade Runner 2049.
Sometimes the pacing slows down too much, even compared to the original, just to establish secondary characters. Establishing the relationship between K and Joi feels like an indulgence – a term I will use again later. Several other characters such as Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) and Freysa could have done with more screen-time, but I suppose they set the plot in motion when it was needed. The cast is furthermore enhanced by Dave Bautista, Carla Juri and Lennie James. All are excellent choices for their respective characters.
Roger Deakins succeeds
Much has been made in the run up to the movies release about the cinematography. Roger Deakins, who has worked with Denis Villeneuve twice before, has done an amazing job of bringing the world of 2049 to life. Every scene feels like you’re walking in an art gallery or museum. As such I really got the feeling I was there – it feels like real-life experience which is ironic considering the story. The movie actually feels light on special effects, they support the cinematography and no more.
Just like the original movie, there were moments I considered it was too self-indulgent. During the second half there were scenes with dialog that slowed the pace too much. One scene in particular, in which K is listening to Frank Sinatra felt unnecessary. As the final act of the movie ran I grew restless and wondered when it would end and what the finale would be. The last scenes of the movie – and the revelation they bring – are highly rewarding and stand in contrast with the weaker scenes of this act.
A set up for a sequel?
What I didn’t mention about my opinion on the story are the loose ends. When I walked away I considered how little I actually knew of the world of 2049 and the possibilities that the final scene brings for another story. At that moment I was annoyed at what I considered an obvious ploy to create another sequel. However, I have since reconsidered. Loose ends do not necessarily mean another movie will be made. I hope there will not be a sequel to Blade Runner 2049!