Blade Runner 2049 (First Viewing)

Blade Runner 2049 is a 2017 neo-noir science fiction film starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto. A sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic Blade Runner, 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Hampton Francher and Michael Green. Francher is one of the two people who wrote the screenplay for the original film. 2049 takes place 30 years after the original film and follows K, a Blade Runner employed by the LAPD to hunt down rouge and dangerous Replicants, bio-engineered humans. K uncovers a vast conspiracy which leads him to retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard.

I left the theater an hour ago and am still processing what I just saw. I am struggling to come up with words. Villeneuve, director of one of my all-time favorite films, 2015’s Sicario, as well as 2013’s brilliant Prisoners, will be credited with creating a piece of film history. It will not be immediately apparent, as some, like Forbes, seem to be ripping into this movie unfairly. I don’t understand their criticisms. 2049 is a slow burn, but so was the original, and, as I recently discussed, that is not at all a bad thing. I won’t go so far as to label it or put it in league with the greatest films of all time, the authority to make that distinction belongs only to history itself. I will, however, say that it most certainly lives up to, and may even surpass, the original masterpiece.

I don’t even know where to begin. Villeneuve and his director of photography Roger Deakins, who is the best cinematographer working in the business today, have managed to create a futuristic world that is a perfect continuation of what the future would look like in 2049, through the lens of the original’s version of 2019. It feels very natural, and it has, as I expected, the best cinematography I’ve seen all year. I would expect nothing less from Deakins, who has been the man behind the camera for all of Villeneuve’s English-language directorial efforts. The world of 2049 is nothing short of beautiful.

2049 is a completely organic continuation of the original in terms of story and characters, as well. Every character, new or old, feels like a part of this world. Absolutely nothing about this sequel felt forced or unoriginal; quite the opposite, actually. The best sequels are ones that can stand on their own as being good movies, without having to be compared to or unnecessarily reference the original film. 2049 comes to us 35 years after the original hit theaters, but there’s no forced nostalgia here. 2049 stands on its own, and it stands very, very tall.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant here. The new characters introduced in this film have more emotional and psychological depth than anyone in the original, including Deckard himself, and this is coming from someone who loves the original. K, explicitly a Nexus Class 8 Replicant, is a deeply conflicted and confused character, and Gosling portrays that confusion and K’s anger and rage perfectly. With 2011’s Drive and last year’s La La Land, I have grown to respect Ryan Gosling as more than just a pretty boy with less range than a wet piece of plywood, which is what I used to think of him. With K, my growing respect has now solidified, and I can now stand by him as one of Hollywood’s major players. Everyone else gives a flawless performance, as well. I was especially impressed with Ana de Armas’ performance as Joi. Harrison Ford gives his best performance in recent years, maybe since the original Blade Runner.

Like the original film, 2049 is a very philosophical and existential tale. It is one of the most weighty and complex films I have ever seen, in terms of narrative and the many layers found when digging deeper in. K faces prejudice in his life from nearly everyone he meets, even his empathetic boss. He is looked at differently for his unnatural origins, even though, like Roy Batty, he is essentially human in every other way. He has his own emotions, feelings, and ideas, and yet, he is seen as less just because he was not born, but created. He seems to have internalized these feelings, expressing that, since he was not born, he lacks a soul, an idea which his boss callously reinforces. This question of what defines a human was explored in-depth in the original, and Francher uses this opportunity to keep going, right where he left off in 1982. I spent two full college class periods analyzing Blade Runner, and the only reason we stopped is because we, regrettably, had to move on to another film. You could fill an entire semester of an upper-level philosophy course with questions from 2049 alone.

The original film asked a lot of questions and provided few answers. A large portion, if not a majority of the film, is left entirely up to interpretation, which added to the film’s legacy and reputation over time. 2049 could have easily been ruined by answering any questions. Answering questions definitively in a narrative such as this will confuse and anger people, because that would invalidate their thoughts and beliefs as to what the open-ended stuff means. Thankfully, 2049 answers nothing, and leaves audiences a fresh new pile of questions to ponder. I left the theater with nothing but more ambiguity and questions, and it was awesome.

2049, like its predecessor, is not for everyone. Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone liked the original. 2049, although a big-budget sequel to possibly the most influential science-fiction film ever, is not what I would consider a mainstream film. In fact, I would say that some sequences and elements of this film have a more art house/experimental feel to them. The original did, as well. They are both, as I have discussed, slow burns that focus more on theme than plot. 2049 is not a blockbuster action film. There are invigorating scenes of action in here on par with Sicario’s traffic jam scene, but they are few and far in-between. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Sicario, go watch it now.

2049 is a think piece. I think mainstream moviegoers might take a cursory look at Blade Runner’s legacy, completely misunderstand how and why it is so influential and why it has a legacy, and think it must have been a fast-paced, slick, awesome flick, because that’s what all good movies are, right? Wrong. It is not, and 2049 isn’t either. If you go into 2049 expecting anything like Baby Driver or John Wick, you will be woefully bored and disappointed. Both are low-concept, philosophical think pieces that use science-fiction as a vehicle; both are so uniquely their own I can’t think of appropriate comparisons.

With that caveat out of the way, 2049 is quite possibly the perfect sequel. I remember a lot of people were concerned that Scott was handing over the reigns to a different director, but French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has succeeded at the task of creating a sequel that not only stands up to, but in many ways surpasses the original, and considering how firmly entrenched in film history the original is, that should have been a near-impossible feat. Villeneuve has succeeded in a way no one else could, creating not only the perfect sequel, but also a film that may also end up with its own personal legacy 30 years from now. With excellent set design, excellent cinematography, excellent acting, excellent effects, and an extraordinary script, Denis Villeneuve is the director of not one, but two of my Top 10 Favorite Films, which is a first. I get if you don’t like it. Honestly, you very well might not. I, however, most definitely did. The parenthetical means I might go more in-depth on this someday, by the way. I should probably learn how to say Denis Villeneuve out loud, right? I can barely spell it.

 

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