Movie Review: ‘Blade Runner 2049’


I’m doing something a bit different here in that I’m beginning the review prior to the screening. Instead I’m starting the night before while watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut. I first saw a version of this film some 20 years ago as a movie nerd teenager, setting my sights on post-high school film studies. Since then I’ve been a huge fan of Scott’s film and watched the Directors Cut and Final Cut many times. It was essential viewing at film school and required viewing for my own curriculum as an educator.

At no point have I ever wanted a sequel, reboot, remake, reimagining or expansion on the world created in Blade Runner. It’s a complete story, a perfectly realised world and an excellent example of style and genre. This is very much the film snob speaking, but I’ve always considered Blade Runner to be untouchable. There are elements of the plot and themes that are open ended, but we’ve had so much to talk about it’s never felt like we needed the film to give us more. And yet here we are.

Tomorrow I’ll be seeing the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, and then I’m going to come and write a review that will hopefully be more impartial for having gotten this off my chest, I like the choice of the director and I liked the trailer, there’s some good actors involved, so there’s nothing about the new film I have a problem with…I just never wanted it.

Ok…I’ll be back.

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista

Plot: A Blade Runner working in Los Angeles is hunting older model Replicants when he discovers a buried secret that leads to a wider conspiracy.

Review: I’m back. Yes, that is an immensely vague plot summary, but the distributor and director himself has really pushed for reviewers not to reveal any plot elements. To keep in the spirit we’ll try to work around the story in this review.

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Not that the story is the real sell here, as Blade Runner 2049 serves as more of a companion piece to Blade Runner than a straight sequel. Characters and events from the original have instigated the events of this film, but the purpose of Blade Runner 2049 is to explore the themes of artificial intelligence and what defines a human. In that regard it does an amazing job (without having to confirm or disconfirm a particular debate regarding the nature of a character from the first film). The only reason we had an interest in watching this new chapter was Denis Villeneuve being at the helm. His work exploring sci-fi concepts in Arrival marked him as the absolute best person for the job. We see more of the world from the perspective of Replicants this time around, and we see the concept of AI characters taken further with the inclusion of a relationship with a hologram.

Don’t let the marketing fool you though, there isn’t as much action as some of the trailers have suggested. It’s a thought piece (with cool action) that gives much screen time to Ryan Gosling being stoic and gazing. With the emphasis on the Roger Deakins’ visuals we certainly don’t mind the film-makers taking their time with things. The stunning contrast of colours, the reversal of visual elements from the first film, the detailed neo-noir setting all looks amazing. Youtube film channels are going to have a field day stripping this down. Make sure you go and see this in a cinema with a good sound system, as the sound design is on par with the visuals.

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Only one thing stood out as problematic is the lack of population in the city. This is a nitpick, but there didn’t seem to be many people in the most scenes especially compared to the crowds in the original and prequel short films. This could be due to most people moving off-planet, which gets mentioned often, but the scale of the city and level of advertising and industry doesn’t suggest and abandoned world.

Ryan Gosling is extremely well suited to the role of Officer K – again, the stoicism is key – and he’s got an immense supporting cast of established actors and newcomers. The only weak link in the chain is Jared Leto. He doesn’t do a bad job, he is a good actor but he gives the sense that he is trying harder than he needs to. He comes across less of a character and more an actor trying his darnedest to be unsettling. Unfortunately we can’t discuss the individual roles in more detail without addressing plot elements.

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This is an ambitious film that does not rely on its roots to sell tickets. It’s bold and powerful, and builds on the ideas laid out in both Ridley Scott’s film and Philip K. Dick’s novel. New viewers and fans of the source material will both enjoy this engaging and visually arresting sci-fi film.

Rating: NINE out of TEN

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