Bold and Brilliant, Blade Runner 2049 Surpasses Original
Blade Runner 2049 had a tough act to follow, considering it was a sequel to one of the most highly-acclaimed science-fiction films of all time. But director Denis Villeneuve’s epic film delivers in nearly every regard. Ambitious and extraordinarily crafted, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the more impressive films released in recent years, and undoubtedly better than the original.
Granted, neither of us thought much of the original — which we felt compelled to watch in advance of 2049. Ridley Scott’s influential 1982 film about a “blade runner” named Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, hunting down bioengineered humans known as “replicants” who have escaped from an off-world colony was originally dismissed by critics; but after being rediscovered over the following decade, it later came to be regarded as one of the most revered films in the science-fiction genre. Our opinion, however, was in accord with the initial diagnosis. The film certainly provided a couple of memorable moments. Its success at creating a bleak, visually distinct world and willingness to buck conventional blockbuster trends — by posing ponderous questions concerning humanity — should be credited. However, as a whole, the original Blade Runner was tedious and lacked enough of a focus on the film’s most interesting component: the replicants. In other words, it failed to live up to the hype.
This was not the case with Blade Runner 2049. While maintaining a similar premise as the first film, it built on two of the original film’s most successful elements — its ominous dystopian world and its confidence to explore weighty themes--to create a wondrous, if slightly unsettling, spectacle rarely enjoyed in movie-going experiences. The film first introduces us to the protagonist, K, played by Ryan Gosling, who, like Ford’s Deckard, we come to learn is a blade runner who “retires” rogue replicants. The difference, though, is that K is part of the new crop of replicants developed by the mysterious Niander Wallace, played by Jared Leto. The new replicants now coexist amicably alongside real humans in society.
Yet, what we really come to learn early in 2049 is that Villeneuve’s vision of a dystopian Los Angeles is extraordinary. From the grey, degraded outskirts of the city introduced early in the film, to the immense, threatening LA skyline and the hazy tangerine ruins of Las Vegas, 2049 is simply a monumental visual achievement. It should undoubtedly land cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has been previously nominated for thirteen Oscars, his first gold statue for Best Cinematography.
Moreover, for fans of Villeneuve’s Arrival, 2049 deals with similar themes: self-actualization, our increasingly complicated relationship with technology, and the defining attributes that make us human. Like Arrival, this film is also very cerebral, as it takes time exploring these questions at the expense of having a fast-paced plot. And that could certainly be a problem for some — clocking in at 2 hours and 43 minutes, this film is long. Granted, it didn’t feel quite that long. But 2 hours and 43 minutes is 2 hours and 43 minutes — a round of edits to trim it down by, say, 20 minutes, could have been beneficial. Additionally, with regard to other critiques of the film, we would be remiss not to mention that 2049 incorporates elements of the first film, especially with regard to Ford’s character. That could leave those who haven’t seen the original Blade Runner out of the loop during a few moments.
Nonetheless, Blade Runner 2049 is worthy of your respect. It is the kind of film that contains enough substance, both from a visual and narrative perspective, where you might be immediately inclined, as we were, to head downtown, grab a drink, and discuss all elements of the film for at least an hour. Despite underperforming massively at the box office, 2049 is also likely to remain in the discussion of this year’s top films come awards season. It may even be this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, scoring a bunch of accolades for categories like Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and perhaps even Best Director.
These honors would absolutely be well-deserved.