By Brian Harris, Staff Writer
A sequel to the cult-classic Blade Runner, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 improves upon the original in just about every way.
Crafting a sequel to one of the most revered and influential science fiction films in modern cinema seemed to me an impossible task when I first heard of 2049.
The Ridley Scott-directed original has permeated much of the film landscape in the 30 years since its disappointing box office debut in 1982, to the point where personally I saw the prospect of a sequel as unnecessary at best and disrespectful at worst.
But where Blade Runner is in many ways all style, no substance, 2049 manages both enormous style, and more substance than most blockbusters even attempt.
Now, I’m going to keep the plot to a bare minimum here; apparently director Denis Villeneuve discouraged reviewers from divulging too many story beats, and I easily agree.
This is a detective noir film at its core, and frankly what’s the point of a mystery without the, well, mystery of it all. What I will say however, is the story this time around centers on Ryan Gosling as “K,” a ‘Blade Runner’ (essentially a police detective assigned to exterminate robots in hiding) in 2049 Los Angeles.
If you’ve ever seen the original, that premise might sound a tad familiar, but don’t worry, within even the first five minutes this film establishes itself as a very different animal.
In an age of sequels repeating beat for beat the plotlines of their predecessors, seeing a truly original continuation of the first film’s story was almost shocking.
What’s even more shocking are the jaw dropping visuals. Noted cinematographer Roger Deakins outdoes himself with this film; each individual shot is stunning.
It’s rare that not a single image is out of place in a film this massive (clocking in at two hours and 43 minutes), but somehow, they pull it off.
Watching the movie reminded me of going to an art gallery, every frame felt like something I’d hang on a wall instead of appearing for a fifteen second shot in a film.
It is easily one of the most gorgeously filmed movies not only this year, but this decade, and one that practically inspires awe with its lovingly crafted landscapes of this hellish future world. After 13 prior Oscar nominations for his astounding work, hopefully this will be the film that finally gives Deakins his first win, because there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he’s more than earned it with 2049.
Another aspect that needs to be addressed are the performances. Ryan Gosling’s K is present for almost every scene, to the point where if he had faltered bringing this role to life the whole piece would’ve come crumbling down.
Luckily, Gosling carries the film on his back, delivering an unexpected vulnerability to his noir-inspired protagonist. Interestingly, Gosling plays K as the opposite of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard from the original film.
Where Deckard was a hardened, un-emotional detective, K is an intimate, emotional and significantly more sympathetic character, giving a performance that elevates the film.
But don’t worry Blade Runner fans, Deckard does return for this sequel, although for not as long as the posters and trailers would have you think.
Nevertheless, Ford brings his A-game to the role, reaching emotional depths he hasn’t shown for decades.
There’s always the joke with a new Harrison Ford performance if he actually cares about what he’s doing or not; with 2049 you can tell this is a Ford who cares.
And then there’s the two scene stealers, Ana de Armas as Joi provides much of the film’s emotional core, while Sylvia Hoeks is absolutely terrifying as psychotic office assistant “Luv.”
I’m being as vague as possible here, because both characters are in many ways gigantic spoilers, but both are absolutely captivating in their roles, specifically Hoeks who brings such a brilliant intensity to the film.
There’s so much more I could talk about, from the incredible score, to the thematic depths the film is willing to plunge into.
This is in many ways the movie that just keeps on giving, the more I think on it the more its many strokes of brilliance move me.
But, I think the best thing one can say about it is it’s not a lazy sequel; this isn’t a cynical cash grab or unnecessary reboot.
This feels necessary, and in this era of Hollywood, what can get better than that?