Blade Runner 2049 review Ryan Gosling Year: 2017
Director(s): Denis Villeneuve
Writer(s): Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1, 1.90:1 (IMAX)
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 163 mins

Synopsis: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years. (Source)

This is the best way to describe Blade Runner vs Blade Runner 2049 is as follows: Ridley Scott threw the curveball that changed the game, and now, director Denis Villeneuve has hit that pitch outta the park and walked his way to home base. Whereas Scott’s film introduced us to an oppressive world that seeded ideas about identity, the nature of sentience and controlled social order, Villeneuve’s film is the one that follows through. Blade Runner 2049 easily surpasses its predecessor in grand ways. It’s a restrained, intimate musing on what it means to be human, exploring the ever disintegrating line between digital verisimilitude and what’s perceived to be real. There’s a lot to unpack here, but in terms of bottom line, this is peak Villeneuve, featuring a director at the top of his creative game, and a philosophical portrait about the struggle between intellect, logic and emotion.

Shortly after the events of the original film, replicants (biorobotic androids) are given open-ended lifespans in order to be more efficient. Nearly 30 years later, the world has barely recovered from an EMP blackout that crippled its replicant workforce and collapsed social order. Now, replicants are created to obey and made to order, disposable, designer robots clearly identified and living with humans amidst a tenuous and fragile balance. Meanwhile, older, unpredictable models are still hunted down by sanctioned Blade Runners and retired, leading a Los Angeles cop, Agent K (Ryan Gosling), to uncover a secret so shocking, it could reshape the world. With his world-breaking discovery, K navigates a deep conspiracy, even as it challenges who he is, and he’s forced to face inner demons to decide the fate of mankind.

Blade Runner 2049 review Ana de ArmasIn the best way, Villeneuve’s film is the continuation of a dream, one that blends striking, surreal imagery with deeply potent musings on what constitutes a soul. Just like Scott’s original film, this one is a tone poem, showcasing a nightmarish future that we can’t and don’t want to wake up from. Though there are some potentially big stakes, K’s unique point of view is the focal point, a smart subversion that makes the story’s big ideas feel as intimate as they are damning. In fitting form, layered, evocative dissections on our perception of memory, social prejudice, digital reality, legacy and the elusive search for purpose in a self-destructive world are what make up the story’s impressionistic plot. Those worried that this film may be a beefed-up, clash of spectacle and empty thrills can rest easy. Villeneuve’s follow-up is even headier than its predecessor, asking questions that may have no real answers. The result is a bold, ballsy sci-fi that uses fantasy to evoke intangible truths we can’t put into words.

Just like the original film, 2049 calls on the atmosphere of its futuristic world to create not just tone, but feeling and depth. Villeneuve finds himself unmatched here. Every frame is striking at first glance, yet still requires each viewer to dig past surface to enjoy the immense level of detail and thematic riddle. Though what we’re seeing very much feels like it belongs to the universe of Ridley’s original film, Villeneuve has made it unmistakably his, utilizing Roger Deakins’ (give him the Oscar!) poetic photography to lend a sense of realism without sacrificing an otherworldly patina. Coupled with the story’s languid pace, the film’s execution is an awesome blend of sight, sound and spectacle that burns with complex purpose.

Blade Runner 2049 review rdThe film’s other, not-so-secret weapon, is its ensemble. Ryan Gosling’s K is stunning. Gosling’s downbeat performance is a great accent to the film’s poetic haze, humanizing the nuanced struggles that make up the story’s conceit. Gosling can have a sense of humor at times, but there’s also a deep sadness to him that we understand even despite the extraordinary circumstances. Ana de Armas’ Joi and Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv are beautiful contrasts, each playing different types of “products” who are struggling with their existence. In all honesty, Hoeks steals every scene she’s in, thanks to an uncompromising performance that blends fierce physically with subtle, human fragility, commanding the screen with a presence that’s empathetic, yet alien. Harrison Ford’s Deckard is confined to the film’s third act, and is in many ways the payoff. Ford drives home emotion with a world-weary performance that ranks amongst his best in a long while.

Against all odds, Blade Runner 2049 is as fresh and groundbreaking as its predecessor, an awe-inspiring epic that somehow avoids all the pitfalls that mire modern day blockbusters. This already feels like a timeless classic, something that demands multiple viewings and offers a new look at themes that have grown stale within the genre. Make no mistake, Villeneuve’s take definitely won’t sit well with a lot of people. The film is just short of three hours long, bleak and unwieldy, has an ending that completes an emotional arc rather than tying up loose ends, but is absolutely what it needs to be. At its core, Villeneuve’s film cries out be seen on the biggest screen possible, a fine example of the imagination, purpose and beauty of what film can and should be. Above all, its something that delivers intelligence and emotion in the same breath, something sadly all too rare nowadays, yet desperately needed.