When the original Blade Runner was released 35 years ago, it was a box office bomb. Though it would later garner acclaim and cult-status, the prospect of a sequel, let alone one that could hope to match the original in quality, seemed quite implausible. Blade Runner 2049 subverts those expectations in both essence and execution, standing confidently as a rare science fiction sequel that virtually matches or exceeds the original (e.g. Terminator 2, Aliens, or The Empire Strikes Back). The controversial notion at play is whether or not it succeeds as a better film by comparison. The answer is: yes.
Those keen on watching the film should stop reading now [no, this review does NOT contain spoilers, major or mild]. Do not read any reviews (even mine), a cast list, or watch the trailers (though, to be fair, the trailers do serve as a prime example of marketing that genuinely respects the story). Heck, there are major reveals within the first few minutes that would be a disservice to include here. In these respects, for the first time ever, I’m going to cheat and include the synopsis from the film’s official site which serves perfectly as a tactful introduction to Blade Runner 2049‘s story:
“Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.”
Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher, and executive producer Ridley Scott have not only crafted a worthy follow up to the sci-fi classic but a film that has the potential to be regarded as a future classic in its own right. Beyond its terrific cast which includes superb performances from Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy; SPECTRE), Robin Wright (House of Cards; Wonder Woman), Carla Juri (invoking a vulnerable, Ingrid Bergman quality to her role), and Jared Leto (who characteristically fits neatly in the bizarre world of Blade Runner), the real star of 2049 is Roger Deakins’ exquisite cinematography (if he doesn’t finally win an Oscar for this effort, the Academy Awards will definitively succumb to the worst accusations from its critics). Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most jarring, atmospheric experiences in recent years and a noble successor to the visual masterwork of the original.
Serving as a proper companion piece to the first rather than relying on the derogatory repetition of its story or set pieces, the film organically expands Blade Runner‘s unique universe whilst maintaining the harsh tone of an 80’s production. It doesn’t balk away from the consequences of violence or depictions of nudity/sexuality going so far as to feature one of the most uncanny, mesmerizing sex scenes in science fiction history.
Where the film excels beyond the original, however, is in terms of structure, plot, and character. Blade Runner 2049 is a complex, imaginative film whose story weaves unexpected turns not solely intended as “haha, gotcha” moments. As one settles in for what they ascertain to be a foreseeable path, it takes striking, revelatory bends that fit within the logic of the narrative. This is bolstered considerably by an absorbing performance from Ryan Gosling; yet, the heart and soul of the film belongs to Harrison Ford. Although he makes a late entrance into the production, his presence emanates throughout (sans unnecessary voice over, thank goodness). With his turn in Blade Runner 2049, Ford deftly reminds viewers that under the guidance of a good director and script, he is more than capable of turning in a powerful, resonating performance – easily his best in the last twenty years (the only significant exception being his atypical role in 42).
Those detracted by the slow pace of the original may also share similar qualms with the sequel. It could be argued that 2049 may in actuality be slower paced (with an added hour of screentime to boot!). While its epic scope and lingering nature may indeed lend credence to accusations of over-length, there is a palpable intensity to its build up.
Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is a daring experiment – a true adult mainstream science fiction film. There’s a sincerity to how it treats its audience – an unhurried earnestness that may not reflect a wide palette. A good, rewarding surprise and a premiere lesson in how to fashion an engrossing motion picture sequel.