“Blade Runner 2049” is nothing short of a cinematic triumph.
The film is that rare follow-up to a beloved classic that succeeds in improving upon elements of its predecessor while still fully embracing and celebrating its visual aesthetic and enduring character.
Is it “better” than the 1982 original? No, but it is worthy to stand alongside it, and it should endear the film’s world and mythology to a new generation of fans as well as delight devotees of the original sci-fi thriller.
What’s it about?
Thirty years after the events of the original film, some things haven’t changed, much has changed, but a few things remain the same.
There are still replicants – synthetic people created to perform specific tasks to make life easier for humans. And there are still Blade Runners – specially tasked police detectives whose job is to “retire” replicants who deviate from their mandates.
While completing what originally looks like a standard retirement, LAPD Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) stumbles upon a deeper mystery with implications that threaten the relative stability his world currently enjoys.
At the heart of that mystery is one Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who hasn’t been seen in three decades. As K begins his investigation, his activities arouse the concern of both his LAPD lieutenant (Robin Wright) and certain powerful corporate entities.
What did Deckard know and why did he run all those years ago? Why do the architects of the future suddenly care about an old man who literally dropped off the grid so long ago?
The questions draw K down a rabbit’s hole of secrets, revelations, and a fight unlike any his rather dangerous career has ever challenged him to survive.
The perfect director/cinematographer
One reason the original “Blade Runner” is such an enduring classic is the look of its future world as presented by director Ridley Scott (who has an executive producer credit in the new film).
That film’s photography and production design went on to inspire the technology and architecture seen in dozens of sci-fi films in the years that followed, as well as the idea that future cities could still be dark, dirty, and dangerous places, despite the advancement of tech and some of the traffic moving from the streets to the skies.
Director Denis Villeneuve, working with his “Prisoners” and “Sicario" collaborator, cinematographer Roger A. Deakins, delivers a rendition of that world that is both unique and recognizable as the one Scott first gave audiences in 1982. Though the passage of time is clear in their vision, they recapture the starkness of the world, and show how that starkness expresses itself in environments outside of Los Angeles.
Costume and production design are also evocative of the original film in all the right ways. Fans with keen eyes will no doubt recognize all the visual nods in this film – in fact, catching all the “Easter eggs” may take multiple viewings.
The result is a cinematic environment that should prove breathtaking to audiences experiencing this vision of the future for the first time, while for devotees of the original, it should feel, quite rightly, like coming home after having been away for decades.
A compelling detective story
Also like the original film, “Blade Runner 2049” is built around a compelling mystery for its protagonist detective to solve.
Yes, it’s a long film at two hours and 43 minutes. But almost none of that screen time is waste; rather, it’s the result of the script’s patient development of characters, setting and plot.
It’s a testament to the strength of the film’s screenplay and editing that dramatic tension never wanes, despite the long running time. And yes, that screenplay provides plenty of twists and surprises, as any solid detective thriller should.
Naturally, for fans of the original film, seeing “Blade Runner 2049” in theaters is a foregone conclusion. The only question might be, “Is the film experience worth a premium price at a 3D or IMAX venue?” to which the answer should be a resounding “yes.”
But if you’ve never seen the original, don’t let that stop you from experiencing what is certainly one of 2017’s most memorable and awe-inspiring cinematic experiences. This is true escapist entertainment – the world within the film as well as the mystery at the heart of its plot will fully immerse you in that time and place, and leave you pondering it long after the credits roll.
And after all, you can always enjoy the original after the fact. Chances are after seeing this one, you’ll want to, whether you’ve seen it before or not.
Blade Runner 2049
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, and Lennie James, with Dave Bautista and Jared Leto. Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Running time: 163 minutes
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.