“… may not be the best movie, but it is hands-down the best Blade Runner sequel we could have gotten.”
35 years after its initial release, Blade Runner finally got a long-awaited sequel. Well, I’m not actually sure if it was long-awaited. I sure didn’t give a shit, but I’m sure some people did; so let’s just say it got a sequel. This film picks up 29 years after the last one and follows K, a replicant Blade Runner who is tasked with tracking down other replicants (but don’t worry, he only kills the bad ones). The rest of the movie is pretty much what you would expect from a Blade Runner sequel: cool visuals, an engaging world, and a main character who likes to mope around.
There is a lot to unpack in this review so let’s take things as they come, starting with the start of the film. Blade Runner 2049 starts with a very promising scene: K tracking down a replicant at a farm. This scene is exactly what I wanted out of this movie. Intense performances, an interesting plot, and a few gritty action sequences. Apparently I’m an idiot for wanting those things, and the movie makes that clear by making sure this opening sequence is drastically different from everything else we see during this almost 3 hour ride. Don’t get me wrong, this opening scene was fucking brilliant, it was just kind of misleading. And misleading isn’t an alien concept for this film, because the market material is downright fraudulent. There are a few issues I have with it, mainly presenting itself as more of an action movie than it actually is, but let’s be honest that is only going to hurt the film itself. What really pissed me off was the prevalence of Harrison Ford in all of the marketing material. The dude is in less than half of the film, and he’s definitely not a box office draw any more so why even include him? All it does is give the audiences false hope that this film is going to pick up right where the last one left off, with Deckard killing replicants. But instead of that we got a disgruntled Harrison Ford who (surprise, surprise) acted like he didn’t even want to be there.
And as a matter of fact, it’s not just the Deckard thing that I’m mad about but all of the old Blade Runner ‘references’ or ‘nods’ or whatever you want to call them (I call them fan-service). These parts of this movie serve very little purpose to the plot, and they are obviously just there for dudes to scream excitedly because they watched Blade Runner that one time in film class and now they’re in on the joke. I understand that Denis Villeneuve loved the original, but I think this movie would have worked a lot better as a standalone story. And there was a lot going on in the movie plot-wise that I really liked, but to be honest there was a lot going on in general. Blade Runner 2049 had quite a few sequences that really delved into what it means to be a Blade Runner. Past all of the drinking and self-pity you actually have to do detective work; the first film touched on this but Blade Runner 2049 expanded on it. The portions of the film with Ryan Gosling actually going around and meeting new characters and learning about things was really interesting, but unfortunately there were other parts of the plot too. Not only did we get a detective story and a bunch of fan-service, but we also got a love story that was completely original (if you haven’t seen or heard of the movie Her) that took up some time. But wait, there’s more! We also got yet another subplot about some sort of resistance that is doing something. I’m going to be completely honest, this is where the movie lost me. There were too many strands to follow, and it was almost as if there were three Blade Runner sequels planned but the studio said they could only make one, so they jammed all of the “good parts” into it. And of course if you take all of the good parts from three different stories and put them together they aren’t going to be so good. And what didn’t help the plot at all was the fact that the film seemingly took the roundabout way to solving problems. For instance in the film K is a cop, and has a boss. His boss tells him to do a thing, and he says “okay. I’ll do the thing”. Then K finds out more about doing the thing, and realizes that he doesn’t want to do the thing after all. He then spends the next 30 minutes beating himself up over how is boss is going to react if he doesn’t do the thing, and this makes us anticipate something huge. K then goes to his boss and says “I did the thing”, and his boss just says “thanks for doing the thing”. That’s where it ends. Sure when we are going on this journey in the film we don’t realize how pointless it is, but as soon as we reach our destination we look back and realize that we just walked five miles to go ten feet. But don’t get me wrong, I never found this movie boring, just confusing. I would watch Blade Runner 2049 again, in fact I look forward to it, but while I was watching it I couldn’t help but wonder what the fuck everyone was talking about.
Going back to the old Blade Runner for a minute, something (really the only thing) I really loved about that movie was the world that was presented. Every single frame of every scene was so densely populated it was almost a sensory-overload. This world felt so alive and unique and it is the one reason that I don’t completely write-off the original film. Blade Runner 2049 is definitely a movie that was inspired by Blade Runner, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the same magic. I admit that it was cool to be back in this world, but everything about it just felt more generic. Sure you still had the cool moving billboards and shit like that, but the world in general just felt empty. Instead of taking place on these densely populated streets that are overflowing with people and garbage, a lot of Blade Runner 2049 takes place in deserts and these areas of the city where nobody goes apparently. Even comparing the two apartments of our main characters is like night and day. Deckard’s apartment was, well let’s just call it like it is: he was a hoarder. There was shit piled on top of shit, but it was all cool shit. You could spends days pausing every scene in Deckard’s apartment in the original film and noticing something new about that scenery every time you do it. K’s apartment in the new Blade Runner is… a box. He has a couch, and a door, and a hologram (which is cool), but it’s just so empty. When we think ‘future’ now we think simple. Just watch any Apple press conference ever and you’ll understand what I mean. We have little tiny rectangles in our pockets that can do anything and everything. At the time of the original Blade Runner’s creation those things weren’t even a pipe dream yet. So the world created was one that was cluttered, because we would obviously need one of everything. I wish that Blade Runner 2049 had kept that same motif to make the films seem as though they fit together more organically. One thing I will say was that it was really cool to see the Blade Runner version of Las Vegas, and despite Harrison Ford’s presence I found this to be the best part of the movie (or at least tied with the opening).
One thing Blade Runner 2049 nailed was the look of everything. This movie is fucking beautiful, and this may sound like a contradiction to my last point but I think it was beautiful because it was so refined. Despite the (in my opinion) terrible change to the world, now there is less stuff to clutter every shot. We get very clear and deliberate composition, and everything was just so beautiful to behold. And even the CGI in the movie (of which there was a lot) looked fucking incredible. They even pulled a Tarkin, but made it look (for the most part) great. You can definitely see that so much care went into making this movie as good as it possibly could be, and it shows. I think the last thing to talk about would be the performances in this movie, and once again this will show what a great sequel Blade Runner 2049 is. If I had to describe all of the performances in this movie in one word, I would use “flat”. That’s not to say that every single performance was flat, but in general it’s the word I would use. Much like Harrison Ford in the first film, Ryan Gosling plays K as though he is completely devoid of any emotions. Sure there are flashes of brilliance in his performance, but for the most part you can tell that he was really channeling Ford. Harrison Ford himself does exactly what you’d expect. He shows up, he grumbles a bit, and then the movie ends. Watching these two guys share a scene was like watching an immovable object meet an unstoppable force. They knew that one of them had to give a good performance, but neither one wanted to give it. You also have Jared Leto, who apparently blinded himself for the role of Niander Wallace, and much like the last time he tried to really get into the role he was portraying, it wasn’t worth it. He was fine, he just wasn’t in a whole lot of the movie. Everyone else was pretty much the same, but let me tell you why that’s okay. Once again a lot of these characters aren’t human. They don’t have, or at least express, emotions like we do. It’s fine that their performances were ‘wooden’, I have no problem with it. It’s just that I can’t in good conscious praise somebody for playing a robot like a robot. Robots aren’t interesting to me, so seeing someone deliver an emotionless performance isn’t a plus. But it wasn’t all bad in the performance department because we have yet to talk about Sylvia Hoeks and her fucking fantastic job playing Luv, Wallace’s assistant. Much like all of the other characters in this movie, Luv is a replicant; but unlike the other characters she delivers the most emotional performance in the film. Her entire performance is great, but the scene that sold me on her was the one she shared with Robin Wright. This scene by itself is worth the price of admission, but if you do go to see only it just know that you’ll have to sit through quite a bit to get to it.
Overall Blade Runner 2049 may not be the best movie, but it is hands-down the best Blade Runner sequel we could have gotten. You understand while watching this movie that the people who made it had so much respect and understanding for the first film, and they did everything in their power to make a movie that was as close as possible (faults and all). In terms of Blade Runner 2049 as a movie, I wasn’t really a fan. I didn’t hate it, but much like the original film I felt that there was quite a bit wrong with it. That being said, I liked it infinitely better than the original. It’s very pretty to look at, and if that sounds like a bullshit point of praise for me to end this review early then you know me too well. If you liked the original Blade Runner, chances are you’ll like this one too. If you’re not one of those five people, then check it out but expect a movie that takes its time getting where it needs to go.
I give Blade Runner 2049 a B