I found Blade Runner 2049 to be positively captivating. It was long and slow but very immersive and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Villeneuve deftly walked the line between paying homage to the tone and style of the original and exploring new, interesting territory. It is brilliantly directed, very well acted, and realized spectacularly through cinematography and score.
***WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW***
- The story is solid. There is a point of view out there that this movie looks pretty but has a weak plot; I don’t buy it. I found the story – while not perfect – to be very compelling. It has elements of a classic hero’s journey but it also has twists that subvert viewer expectations, thus rendering the mystery more . . . mysterious. I didn’t see the primary twist coming at all and I really enjoyed how it wasn’t a climactic twist (a la The Sixth Sense) but instead marked a huge shift in the arc of the protagonist. This way I could enjoy not just the twist itself but its implications in the third act.
- The characters – even the minor ones – are interesting. I especially enjoyed that, although characters from the previous film are present here, this movie really isn’t about them. Pre-existing characters are part of the context but this story belongs to the next generation.
- Acting and directing are on point. This film isn’t devoid of dialog but there is a lot of “white space,” shots in which characters have to convey information through emoting and blocking rather than through speech. With rare exception, the entire cast acquitted itself with aplomb. I’m no fan of Ryan Gosling because it seems like all he ever does is brood on screen, but that approach worked really, really well here. And any time you can get Harrison Ford to throw himself into a role these days, it’s a win.
- This sequel asks the same philosophical questions as the first film – but it asks them differently. What does it mean to be human? What is love? What is life? Where are the boundaries between what is artificial and what is “real?” The original Blade Runner was hardly the first sci fi film to ask these questions but it did so in a way that captured the imagination, touched the heart, and incited decades of debate. 2049 asks the same questions but through different enough “lenses” as to be just as captivating and thought-provoking.
- Viewers will be rethinking, analyzing and debating this film for years. Not only the abstract, philosophical questions but also the specifics of the plot and characters invite post-facto discussion. Some details become apparent later in the film but some weren’t obvious (to me, at any rate) until hours of thinking about it and discussing afterward. For example, while watching the film, I wasn’t terribly moved when K discovers that he isn’t Deckard’s child. Only afterward, while remembering how earnestly he questioned Deckard about Rachael (believing her to be his mother at that time), did the revelation really hit me in the gut. I imagine that this film – like its predecessor – will benefit from rewatching.
- There is some clunky exposition. For all the tightly woven narrative and artfully shown (just enough)-not-told plot and character points, there are a few moments when the film beats the viewer over the head with overt exposition. I don’t know if this was due to low confidence in moviegoer intelligence (probably justified) or sacrifices to reduce the run-time (in which case I can’t wait to see an extended director’s cut) but each of these moments stick out as wholly incoherent with the rest of the film. They actually pulled me out of the film in those instances but, due to the competence of the rest of the movie, I quickly found myself sucked back in
- The science of some key elements is questionable. I know, I know, you’re supposed to suspend disbelief in sci fi but, when something goes against the basic laws of physics, it’s hard for this scientist/engineer not to object. Once again, though, it’s a credit to the quality of the rest of the film that it could pull me in regardless of my incredulity.
- The cinematography and sound are simply outstanding. They aren’t just pretty to look at and nice to hear; they conspire to create a truly immersive cinematic experience. There were moments in this film when I felt positively hypnotized, floating along wherever the director wanted me to go; it was sublime. Deakins (cinematography) and Zimmer (score) are the “it” people in their respective fields and this film showcased exactly why. Excepting for the few moments that I was pulled out of the film (See above.), I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in this world – and that is saying something after 163 minutes!
- The film captured the tone and style of Blade Runner but extended them enough to offer something truly original. Blade Runner 2049 incorporates enough of the past to honor its heritage but also offers enough new to be interesting. It is more than an homage and less than a copy – more like a variation on a symphonic theme. Doing anything with a movie as beloved as Blade Runner risks alienating fans but I think 2049 hits as close to the mark as can be done. Kudos to the entire team for the care that was taken with this precious IP.
I have been increasingly impressed with Denis Villeneuve‘s work. Most recently I found Arrival to be a refreshingly different type of sci fi movie – much less action-centric and more cerebral than other big budget Hollywood films in the genre. Indeed, Villeneuve’s style was a perfect match for Blade Runner, which was itself a slower and more pensive sci film in a time when Star Wars had turned the genre into a special effects arms race.
When a Blade Runner sequel was announced, I was skeptical. It didn’t seem to me that anyone was clamoring for more Blade Runner, especially not after Ridley Scott’s Final Cut left the film in such a good place. When Villeneuve was attached to the project, I dared to hope but still tempered my expectations. Now, having experienced the final product, I find myself surprised and frankly, elated. Given all of the misses in attempts to reboot or revisit old, beloved franchises, perhaps Blade Runner 2049 will serve as a reminder of just how high the ceiling is if you can get it right.