Blade Runner 2049 – Movie Review

movie reviewIn 1982 we got Blade Runner, an audience and critical flop at the time, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford in the lead. Much like the 1982 John Carpenter film ‘The Thing’, this film was a big flop back in the day. Now both are widely accepted as classics. Maybe the themes and ideas did go over peoples heads or they couldn’t see Harrison Ford play a (kinda) bad guy. Or the open ending (now you would say cliffhanger) was unsatifying. Over the years this film turned into a cult classic and petty much from the get go started to influence all scifi properties that came after 1982. So there were at least some people who understood what a milestone this film was. The first thing that catched on was the dystopian look of it. Later the ideas and themes were better understood and appreciated. Now Blade Runner is (in my eyes at least) an essential film you should have seen and talked about at least once in your life. It’s an important film, exploring the nature of humanity and where it may be headed. Now, all these years later, we get a sequel: Blade Runner 2049. When I first heard they plan a sequel, I was as skeptical as one can be. Then I learned they hired Denis Villeneuve to direct it and that decision immediately spawned a big bucket of hope. He’s one of my favourite directors working today and I enjoyed his recent films a lot! Ridley Scott took the Producer chair and ultimately still had some saying in the making of this film. We also got Hampton Fancher, one of the original writers of the back! So, a potentially very good combination. So how did this collaboration turn out? Is it a worthy sequel to one of the most influential films of all time? Let’s have a look at it without any spoilers.

Blade Runner 2049 starts in broad daylight. Which, right from the get go, tells the audience that this film will be different and things have changed in the past 35 years since when the first movie took place. From what we see the environment is barren, dusty and lifeless. Kind of what you would expect the environment would look like outside one of the megacities. We meet K (Ryan Gosling). K is part of a Blade Runner unit. The unit is still active and hunting down rogue replicants. K finds one of these replicants and visits him. Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) runs a farm outside the city and leads a secluded life, away from everyone and pretty much everything. When K shows up, Sapper is not surprised. He waited for that moment… god knows how long. The scene plays out very quiet and builds up tension that leads into a fight between the two. K manages to win the upper hand and ‘retires’ Morton. Uppon investigating the farm, he finds suspicios things and decides to follow their lead. Blade Runner are police detectives and we see him doing his job more than once throughout the film. So yeah, the film is kind of a ‘police work’ story. Which makes this film more a scifi noir detective story. We learn the clues along with K and try to make sense of it through him. Something that creates a nice connection between the character and the audience. The clues send K and us down a rabbit hole of discoveries and twists that will come (almost) full circle in the end of the film. A fantastic ending that is almost as powerful as the one in the first film. For the rest, please go see the film! It’s worth it!

The acting we get here is also very good. Ryan Gosling tackles his character with a rather subdued performance. So when his character gets emotional, there is a certain impact behind it. Especially since his character goes through all kinds of emotional things thoughout the film. Harrison Ford, at the end of the film, delivers probably one of his best performances in recent years. I loved to see him really put some effort into his character of an older Rick Deckard. The only one who may be a little too much ‘over the top’ would be Jared Leto’s character of Niander Wallace. He kind of replaces Eldon Tyrell. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jared Leto’s character in this film but the scenes with him are probably some of the scenes I would have trimmed down a little. Another standout performance is given by Ana de Armas who plays Joi. She is not one of the main characters but even her character has growth and depth in this film. They managed to squeeze so many things into this film. Even the small nuances have weight. It’s wonderful.

Let’s talk about world building. Something the original movie did perfect. We not only got that scifi story but also a glimpse into how people live in that world and deal with it. Not much has changed since the original film. The world just got a little more bleak, dark and grey. Less wet and more dusty. The only colour we get is artificial, much like almost everything in that world. Everything feels cold and even the dirty areas we see feel kind of sterile at the same time. Which is a fascinating mixture to me. When there is colour on the screen, it’s as if your eyes soak it up like a sponge. And this feeling works perfectly for the world we live in within this film. However, I wanted to see a little more of the world. Nonetheless we do get some really fantastic shots. Aside from these amazingly filmed vista shots we also get very intimate and personal stuff of course. The camera work by Roger Deakins is perfect and captures these moments very nicely. We learn a lot about how this world operates now and how hard it is to survive in it. The original themes of isolation, identity, compassion (to name a few) are all there and tackled throughout the film. The film captures the themes of the original, expands on them and gives the audience a solution to most of the questions we were left off with at the end of the original film. There still are some ambiguous parts but why not? Leave us with something to speculate about. Much like the original film. This film however manages it to give us a very satisfying ending despite the open questions that may still be there. To get this done in a fashion like that is quite masterful and I admire it a lot. It’s clear that there was not much studio interference here and the writers and filmmakers had free reign. Which gave us a sequel worthy of the original. Which is something I’m very grateful for.

With a 160 minute runtime it is indeed a very long movie. I personally could have easily trimmed it by at least 10 minutes. So, this extensive runtime (for me) is probably the only downside of this film. Some shots just linger on too long for no apparent reason. The movie is slow and action sequences sparse. It’s more a character study or… world study. It’s not a ‘bam boom bang’ scifi opera. It’s personal, introvert and almost thinking about itself and the questions it asks. These questions are not just about us and the human condition in general. It’s also about technology and how we deal with it. With the ever growing population on this planet it’s almost paradox that people don’t really come together more but move away from each other (at least emotionally and mentally). Living with technologies that want to bring us closer but end up distancing us from each other. You can see this already today. At least when you’re not staring at your cellphone display all the time and start to observe the world around you a bit.

Of course this film touches on the ‘playing god’ theme of the original as well. We love to create things but a lot of times end up dismissing our creation as failed and look down on it. End up with a Blade Runner unit that hunts down our failed creations, so we are not constantly confronted by our mistakes. And by doing that… ending up making our failure even more obvious. I can observe that on myself when looking at artwork of mine. Most of the time I’m quite happy with the results but I can also see the cracks that (at least to me) sometimes borderline on ruining the work for me. We can never be entirely happy with something we create it seems. At least when it comes to our artificial creations. Yet, we are still looking for perfection. For thousands of years now. I guess that’s part of what makes us human as well. We cannot stop. We always have to go further and if it means our end… then may it be so. Another thing is that we cannot be alone. Yes, some of us can cope better with isolation than others, but in general we desperately need company in some way or another. Could that notion be transferred onto our creations as well? Is this notion of wanting to share our experience with someone (or something) else be something universal? Not just limited to us as human beings but also in our creations? The movie tackles these questions and questions our way of compassion.

Vangelis is one major reason why the original movie works so amazingly well. His score matched the images in a way that is very hard to describe, in a way that is/feels almost out of this world. It’s magical. So of course it would be an amazingly difficult task to re-imagine that music for a follow up film. After listening to both soundtracks in the past two days I must say that Vangelis still is the far superior one. What Johan Johannson, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch managed to do for Blade Runner 2049 is remarkeable nonetheless. Their score manages it to be a continuation of the original movie’s score and also match this new world we are confronted with in 2049. With the influences in the Vangelis soundtrack being quite diverse, the music in 2049 is harder and more claustrophobic in many ways. It perfectly mirrors the dense, thick and atmospheric feel of the world. All that without losing that fine connection to the music from the original. It’s not copying the Vangelis music though. But it’s not violently trying to be its own thing too. It merges with the music of the 1982 original. And if you know the original movie in and out you can hear the musical cues from the original score every now and then. It’s used sparsly and with great respect. So all around the trio did a great job creating a musical soundscape for the world of Blade Runner 2049.

Keeping all these things in mind it’s quite an accomplishment and I’m thankful we have this film now. There could have gone so many things wrong. They even pull off the magic trick to make every single one of the different cuts of the original work in line with this new one. Fantastic writing and direction. What else can there be said? Watch the old and this new one back to back and you will have an all around satisfying experience. Along with a very satisfying ending that kind of manages to close the circle of the original storyline but still leaves some things open. Does ‘leaving things open’ mean ‘sequel bait’? Absolutely not. It’s just room that’s been left empty so you have something to talk and think about.

I’m very happy this film exists. It gives me hope. Not just for when it comes to movies but also for mankind a little bit. At least a portion of humanity is not going blindly into the future.

8.7/10

Blade Runner 2049 on IMDb

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