Blade Runner 2049

Release: Friday, October 6, 2017


Written by: Hampton Fancher; Michael Green

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Denis Villeneuve proves himself a worthy heir to Ridley Scott with his hauntingly beautiful and poetically told Blade Runner 2049, a narratively and emotionally satisfying expansion of Scott’s 1982 classic. It proposes an even darker version of an already grim future reality in which a potential war between humans and an advanced race of A.I. known as replicants could break out after an unlikely discovery is made on the property of a farmer.

Over the better part of the last decade Villeneuve has enjoyed something of a meteoric rise to prominence resulting from a string of blockbuster-level successes. From his award-winning debut film curiously titled August 32nd on Earth in the late ’90s to last year’s awe-inspiring Arrival, the Québécois has been riding a wave of momentum à la Britain’s very own Christopher Nolan, delivering consecutive heavy-hitters in Incendies (2011), Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015). Villeneuve has entered a point in his career where he just might have forgotten how to truly disappoint an audience. The man has a knack for detailing heavy, sometimes profound stories with genuine humanity. Which brings us to the Blade Runner sequel.

It went virtually unnoticed at the box office, taking in roughly the same amount as The Emoji Movie in the U.S. — thus confirming reality is far more depressing than any dystopian future, even one imagined by Philip K. Dick. Yet there’s no denying Blade Runner 2049 is a seismic sequel, one that not only justifies the ambition but all those years spent waiting (or not waiting). Hampton Fancher returns to screenwriting duties and is joined by Logan scribe Michael Green on an original collaboration that expounds upon key themes and introduces a few compelling new characters. Fortunately at this point in the calendar I’m somewhat less terrified of possibly revealing spoilers so it’s also time to mention how a big part of the experience is the way in which Harrison Ford returns like a childhood memory — though, if you’re like me and it took the news of a sequel being developed just to see the original, maybe it’s more of an implanted memory.

We are returned to a rotting carcass of a planet that, through the lens of acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, suffocates under blood orange skies dripping their silver acid down upon the lonely and the damned. The Los Angeles of 2049 continues to play host to a claustrophobic theater of misery, its streets crammed to the curb with imposing edifice and huge holograms. Away from the über-metropolis we have turned to worm farming as a source of protein — it’s important to maintain a sense of nutrition even post-apocalypse — and it’s over these mechanical monstrosities of desperate agriculture we initially swoop in, to arrive at a critical point in the saga.

A few important details first: In the interim, the job of the blade runner (or LAPD officer of the future, if you prefer that vernacular) has been updated. There’s a new level of discretion being applied to targeting suspects as the majority of the replicant population has been integrated into the rest of society and given “purpose” as slaves and servants. These updated Nexus models are the scientifically and aesthetically perfected products of new-sheriff-in-hell Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who seeks a way of expanding intergalactic colonization. This new sinister figure has of course risen out of the ashes of the fallen Tyrell Corporation.

Meanwhile, a young blade runner named ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) is preparing to interrogate a Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista in a fantastically nuanced performance), one of the last remaining old-model replicants who have apparently gone rogue in the aftermath of a nuclear blast some time in the 2030s. There on Morton’s worm farm he finds the remains of a female replicant who apparently had died during childbirth, and after some digging learns that the child is in fact still alive. His commanding officer Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), fearing an all-out war between the two factions, orders K to destroy all evidence and find a bullet-shaped solution to the problem. Will he succeed, or will an even more interested party get there first?

Blade Runner 2049 is nothing if not itself a beneficiary of major technological advancements. This is a much sleeker, sexier presentation that feels somehow more lavishly detailed than its predecessor. We may have lost the scrappier, more primal aesthetic of old, but this is nevertheless the Sistine Chapel of modern science fiction cinema. Villeneuve also is afforded a longer leash than most when it comes to introducing computer-generated graphics — in part because they are so convincingly integrated into their environment but more importantly because they have purpose and are sparingly used.

None are more the beneficiary of that kind of movie magic than Ana de Armas portraying Officer K’s live-in girlfriend, the attractive product of a mathematical algorithm designed to keep citizens from feeling quite so hopeless. The Wallace Corporation has manufactured entire lines of robots suited to meet your every need. The Cuban actress may be confined to a supporting part, but her fleeting performance does more to advance the plot than her official movie credit would suggest. Her warmth offers dramatic contrast against an otherwise bleak landscape. De Armas has described her character as something of a cheerleader for Gosling’s beleaguered blade runner. I see her avatar as something more: a spirit guide for those who roam seemingly without purpose.

In taking over the reigns from Sir Ridley Scott, Villeneuve digs further into the fascia of what makes us who and what we are. In Blade Runner 2049 we are beyond the days of primitive experiments like the Voigt-Kampff Test. They are no longer helpful in separating the flesh from the synthetic. The facsimile has in fact become so convincing we hire real people as surrogate vessels (like Mackenzie Davis‘ Mariette) to live out our fantasies. The question is no longer “what makes you believe you are real?” It is now: “what reality makes you feel less alone?” As K inches ever closer to an understanding of his role in the larger scheme of things, Gosling increasingly appears to inhabit the soul of his wizened co-star. His enigmatic qualities suit this role perfectly, while the trajectory he fulfills offers a compelling new wrinkle in the narrative.

“You’ve never seen a miracle,” Sapper Morton sighs before succumbing to the inevitable. I’d beg to differ Mr. Rogue Replicant, sir, because Blade Runner 2049 is something of a miracle for those of us who carried in a healthy skepticism of sequels, both as a rule and specifically when it comes to updating a veritable classic. While some of that fear is actually confirmed in the sequel — for all the ambition, Villeneuve’s predicative never quite strikes the emotional depths of what was offered more than three decades ago, particularly in the closing moments on that rooftop in the rain — this is a logical next step that proves there’s much more story to tell. Indeed, I have seen things in this movie you people wouldn’t believe.

Recommendation: A science fiction sequel that does the brand justice. Packed to the gills with visuals that will haunt you for days and a star-studded team of accomplished actors wholly devoted to the cause, Blade Runner 2049 does the almost unthinkable in becoming not only a worthy spiritual and physical successor but as well suggesting that perhaps the greatest hurdles still lie ahead. An exciting-in-the-extreme entry for lovers of smart sci fi.   

Rated: R

Running Time: 164 mins.

Quoted: “I always knew you were special. Maybe this is how. A child. Of woman born. Pushed into the world. Wanted. Loved.”

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24 thoughts on “Blade Runner 2049

    • Happy New Year to you, too! Been doing well but haven’t really been keeping up on the movies lately. May there be a time soon that I will be able to get back into the swing of things. I kinda miss it!

    • This was a very delayed experience for me. I didnt catch it til about three weeks into its theatrical run, but how the wait was worth it! I just really find it uncanny how Ridley Scott manages to attract such talent to carry on his vision. First James Cameron, now Denis Villeneuve, who is fast becoming a favorite of mine.

  1. Great review! This was such a beautiful movie and such a well-crafted sequel to a movie that came out in the 80s. It is a damn shame that the Emoji Movie did as well at the box office – Blade Runner deserved to be seen. Hopefully it gets a second life when it becomes available online.

    • I think the fact that there are movies like this still being made is great. This is an untraditional blockbuster in the way it by and large eschews senses-stimulating action sequences for a meditative study of the state of humanity. It is sort of fitting that 2049 gets ignored by the general moviegoing public, because isn’t that precisely what happened in 1982? (Thanks for the bad genes, dad!!)

  2. I totally respect the original. But I found this one to be far superior in every facet. Day 1 Blu-Ray buy for me and I’m saddened this isn’t getting much serious Oscar love. Great thoughts as always, Tom.

    • Interesting perspective. I still find even after never having seen it in theaters a stronger attachment to the original. I think I inherited the nostalgia for it. Haha.

      I think its easy to get too caught up in Oscar glory. Whether this gets plaudits or not, or whether it gets enough I think is irrelevant. It simply exists and we can thank Villeneuve for having the courage to make it. This really is a fantastic movie.

  3. Great review. This was the film of the year for me. Saw it three times at the cinema and it was better each time (roll on the Blu-ray). One of those rare films that achieves true greatness against all odds. It could have easily been a disaster. I wonder what PKD would think of it ( it’s much closer to his original novel than Blade Runner was).

    • I still kick myself a little for stalling. Im sure this would have been KILLER in the main theaters/IMAX. I really need to read the novel, especially with what you say regarding this film. The universe he has imagined and that Scott extrapolated to the big screen is simply a timeless work of art. I for one am just glad another chapter exists. Ryan Gosling really does well in this mode. And Ford’s return was just amazing.

  4. I agree “never quite strikes the emotional depths of what was offered more than three decades ago, particularly in the closing moments”. For all its technical wizardry, I left the cinema numb. That said, as a massive fan of the 1982 film, I hope over time BR2049 grows on me and I can overcome my dislike of certain aspects, namely the weak ending, and focus instead on what the sequel does well 🙂

    • Yeah man I know what you mean. When I first left the theater I felt a little unfulfilled. But in the weeks since, its really grown into a movie that feels like it belongs in this universe.

      I thought the ending was perfect. Bittersweet and sad, yet it injects us with a sense of hope we haven’t really felt thus far. That said, it was a strange ending.

    • I fell in love with the original as soon as I saw it. It’s just a wonderful movie, albeit a little on the bleak side. But it’s such a gracefully told story, and that Tears in Rain speech is just astonishingly well done.

      While I didn’t find any moments in this new chapter that hit quite those heights, Villeneuve really did the legacy justice. This is one of my favorites of the year and the last several, to be honest. What a great ambassador for the genre.

      • Tears in Rain is one the all time best scenes. Blade Runner is just one of the all time classics. I adore it. I wasn’t expecting the sequel to match it but everything I’ve heard sounds very positive.

        • I do love 2049. I really do. It’s its own thing, and a great expansion simultaneously. Yet, if I were pinched into comparing, I’d as of now still slightly take Scott over Villeneuve — if, only for the fact that the former had no real idea if it would work at all while the latter benefits from a precedent.

          Itll be worth the wait to get it seen Muckers. It’s good stuff.

    • It’s a grand gesture to lovers of smartly done sci fi. Oh I’m in love with these things man! Nice to meet another big fan 😀

  5. Oh my goodness, YES. This movie was absolutely awesome – it was a visual and audio feast, had a good story and was carried by solid performances. I am so looking forward to watching this again. Thrilled to see you enjoyed it so much Tom!

    • Oh how I did Zoe! I was basically in heaven for the better part of three hours 😀 How fun was it seeing Harrison Ford back too?

      Gonna still lean on the original in terms of the novelty of the experience (I think that’s just something a sequel almost always cannot make up for) but Villeneuve successfully assuaged any fears I had of a new story devaluing the saga. This was a spectacular treat, one thats likely going to reward for many repeat viewings to come !

        • Indeed. I really feel like I’m going to be losing many years of my life rewatching this and of course the original 🤔😃

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