Film Review: Blade Runner 2049
BLADE RUNNER 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Jared Leto
It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's neo noir masterpiece hit the theaters. 1982 was a great year for film, one of the best, really. Among others, the films that dominated the box office include now-classics like Rocky III and Sophie's Choice. On top of that, Blade Runner came out in the same month as Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Thing, and E.T. It is therefore unsurprising that it didn't as well as it might have, having to compete with that line-up (not to even mention the studio's intervention to the final product). But it gained momentum after its theatrical run, and through different cuts of the film being released every few years on cassette and DVD, it is now the cult classic we all know and love.
The sequel was confirmed over two years ago. For die-hard fans of Blade Runner, waiting a year and half was annoying, to put it mildly. Harrison Ford was confirmed to return for the role of Deckard, Denis Villeneuve was set to direct, Ryan Gosling was cast for the (other) protagonist role, and then teasers and trailers started to be released. It was a slow process to get to this week, when we finally get to see a sequel that for decades it seemed like it wasn't going to happen. The anticipation may have filled some of the more hopeful and optimistic fans with false expectations, and with the way Hollywood churns out sequels without a care for quality, you'd be forgiven for having reservations.
Leading up to this week, there were a few companion videos released, aimed to bridge the temporal gap between 2019 (the setting of the original film) and 2049. I'll link them here, as it's a good appetizer before going to the theater to be immersed in the world of Blade Runner 2049.
And now, to the actual review of the film. I was worried about a few things, going into the theater. First of all, while I trust Villeneuve, I'm always uncomfortable when a new director takes on the property of another, and this case was particularly sensitive considering how Scott's vision for Blade Runner was only realized with the release of the Final Cut ten years ago. Secondly, while I again trust Hans Zimmer to deliver on a score, Vangelis' composition of the Blade Runner music was a thing of astonishing beauty, and one of the main factors that this particular blend of noir and cyberpunk sci-fi worked so well. I'll leave a link to a great essay by The Nerdwriter on the topic of the music so you can understand what I mean.
And finally, judging by the trailer, which seemed much brighter than the gloomy original, I feared it was going to focus too much on the action, when the slow pace of Blade Runner certainly contributed to its success and preventing it from being just another sci-fi action flick. So how did Blade Runner 2049 fare on these regards?
In terms of sequels, Blade Runner 2049 is by far one of the best ever done. The reason is simple: it's to a large extent its own thing. It's not neo noir anymore, it's often bright (though the classic shots of rain in an uber-capitalist LA are still there) and features warm colors at times, its protagonist is not a rehashing of Deckard but an even more complex and interesting character.
Since it is a product of Philip K. Dick's work, it's worth mentioning a few things. One, I'm so very glad that we have the visual effects technology to do justice to his vision. There are a number of scenes in the film where the sci-fi element takes over and it looks amazing. Two, it does an even better job that its predecessor in developing the themes Dick was interested in. In particular, Dick was often asking questions about reality: What is real? How do we know if something is real? Is there a way to tell? Does it matter if we can't tell? 2049 takes its time in exploring these questions, in the context of replicants and their relationship to "humans" and beyond, with a particularly touching subplot involving virtual reality.
In terms of directing and cinematography, it remains true to the original, but Villeneuve went all out in this one. Every shot is astonishing and takes its time setting the theme of each scene. There are a lot of wide shots, as can be seen in the trailer. Some of them are very minimalistic, featuring one or two elements, and some of them feature a heavier composition, and the detail work there is very meticulous (with several nods to the original if you care enough to look for them). The pace is maybe even slower than its predecessor's, if that's possible, and it works just as well as it did for Ridley Scott.
While it's a visual pleasure, and truthfully, you don't often see films with this kind of focus on aesthetics, what blew me away was the sound. I retract all my reservations; everything about the soundtrack is at the highest level. The score, which doesn't need to be restrained to the themes of Blade Runner due to the new direction 2049 has taken, sounds amazing, comes in at the right moments and is often coming in bursts. The sound mixing and editing takes center stage in this film. If you ever watched the Oscars and didn't care about these awards cause you didn't understand exactly what they're talking about, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best examples of stellar sound editing. But here's the most astonishing thing about the use of sound in the film: there's hardly any of it. I can't even count the times where there was absolutely no sound on screen, and the whole theater was dead silent and I could hear people trying not to breathe too loudly. It had us literally holding our breath, and nothing "exiting" was even happening, it was just establishing shots and wide shots of Ryan Gosling walking.
Which brings me to my next point: the acting. It was nice to see Jared Leto do something worthwhile with his talent. I'm not his biggest fan, and I know he has plenty of haters, but godammit he can act. His vocal performance in particular deserves a lot of praise. His voice was calm and yet commanding, and he managed to find a new register for this kind of "villain" (if you can call it that; it was a far cry from the almost cartoonish Tyrell from the original). Robin Wright brought her A game as you'd expect of her, and again brought new life to the role of police chief, avoiding every stereotypical portrayal that you might expect given the reliance of Blade Runner on film noir detective tropes. The star, though, was of course Ryan Gosling. For my money, he has never given a more nuanced and complex performance. There's a bit from his characters in Drive and The Place Beyond The Pines in there, but there's a certain depth that he portrays in this film that he didn't quite show in those films.
All in all, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece of filmmaking, and I feel comfortable saying that even though I haven't had time to rewatch it and process it properly. It is clear that its goal were high from the beginning, and I think it achieved them in full. It's really refreshing to see a film of this scale give up the security of action and even dialogue very often, to try and base most of it's storytelling on cinematic language. It's all about the picture, the look of it, the feel of it, the shot compositions and the editing. Even the sound that I praised so highly was used only when needed, and it took its chances with complete silence at times. If the ultimate goal of a review is to convince to watch a film or not, the answer is very clear: GO WATCH IT NOW!
Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pendora since Jan. 2016. Successfully impersonated a student of English literature and now a Publishing student in Edinburgh. Interested in the direction English literature is taking in the 21st century, noir comics, beautifully shot films. Can bore you to death with Hollywood trivia, extensive knowledge of Leonard Cohen, and La La Land. TWITTER INSTAGRAM