Green-lighting “Blade Runner 2049” could be considered one of the gutsiest movie moves in recent years. Ridley Scott’s 1982 original landed with mixed reactions both from critics and moviegoers. It’s unique and unconventional approach to practically everything pushed many viewers away and it failed to bring in the money Warner Brothers was banking on. Yet over time perceptions have changed and the film is widely regarded as a science fiction classic.
Now, 39 year later, along comes “Blade Runner 2049” and you could say it has followed the same path as its predecessor. While critics weren’t as divided, audiences didn’t come out for it and the movie fell well short of what it needed at the box office to break even. Yet just like the ’82 film, it wouldn’t be a stretch to expect a re-evaluation over time and a greater appreciation for what “2049” is doing.
Talks of a “Blade Runner” sequel had been ongoing for years with names like Christopher Nolan and a returning Ridley Scott attached. Denis Villeneuve eventually signed on to direct and with him came long-time collaborator and top-tier cinematographer Roger Deakins (fourteen Oscar nominations without a win and counting). What quickly became obvious was Villeneuve’s intention to keep certain things very close to the original. The look, the tone, even the deliberate storytelling all hearken back to Scott’s picture.
Ryan Gosling plays K, a Blade Runner for the LAPD. In case you need a refresher, Blade Runners are tasked with hunting down and “retiring” bioengineered humans known as replicants. K’s superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) puts him on the trail of a rogue replicant of interest (Dave Bautista) who needs to be put down. In his encounter with his target K discovers evidence of a child born possibly from two replicants. Joshi believes this startling knowledge that replicants can reproduce could start a war so she orders K to hunt down the child and erase any evidence of its existence.
The devilish Tyrell Corporation from the first film is no more and the even more nefarious Wallace Corporation has risen to take its place. It’s ran by a mannered, milky-eyed Jared Leto who has also learned of the miracle child’s possible existence. And as you can probably guess, he wants it for his own reasons. He sends his personal strong-arm Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to tail Agent K and capture the child for the company.
The writing team of Hampton Francher (co-writer of the original film) and Michael Green (who contributed to four 2017 screenplays) wisely steer clear of altering the “Blade Runner” formula. Much like its predecessor, 2049 is a methodically structured puzzle, solved through slow but persistent drips of revelation. Surrounding that central mystery is a visually jaw-dropping world – a consistent evocation of the original film’s unforgettable aesthetic. Production designer Dennis Gassner deserves a ton of credit for visualizing such a stimulating dystopia, from the exquisitely dank and dreary Los Angeles to the glowing orange hue of the sandy and barren Las Vegas. Then Deakins elegantly shoots the world in a way that amplifies the moody sci-fi/neo-noir vibe and immerses the audience.
Gosling (known for often acting in a perpetual state of lethargy) is a perfect fit for his role. K is a character hungry to feel and there is a surprising emotional resonance in Gosling’s portrayal. K is a tragic figure, mutually disliked or dismissed by both humans and replicants. He attempts to fill that void with a holographic companion called Joi (Ana de Armas). But ultimately it’s his mission to hunt down the child that puts the pieces together for him. One of those pieces is a returning Harrison Ford who brings an unexpected subtlety and nuance to the now older and wiser Rick Deckard.
“Blade Runner 2049” isn’t the first movie to pose the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ Ridley Scott has long been fascinated with variations of that question and Villeneuve’s movie is no different. It’s an idea that lies under the surface of “2049” and its entire two hours and forty-five minute runtime. It is a bit long which certainly contributed to the lower box office. And viewers attuned to more action-packed rhythms have undoubtedly had a hard time with the picture. That’s a shame. “2049” has more to say, has more visual ingenuity and takes more risks than the bulk of the genre films we get today.
So for now it appears the gutsy call hasn’t paid off. But I can’t help but believe that over time “2049” will be reassessed by many who dismissed it and I can honestly see it someday being heralded as a new science fiction classic just like its predecessor. Sure, those are bold words but some people were saying the same thing in 1982.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
Blade Runner 2049 is a perfect example of how to make a sequel to a film that really didn’t call for a sequel. Blade Runner 2049 was in my top 5 movies of 2017 and is one of the best sequels ever made. I would put it up there with Godfather Part II and Empire Strikes Back. Denis Villeneuve is quickly proving to be a master film-maker like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Denis is that damn good.
Strong points. It took some guts to put this much money and talent into this specific sequel. It’s pretty frustrating to see it do so poorly at the box office. Do you agree with me that over time this film will be reassessed?
Absolutely. Honestly, I kind of figured it wouldn’t do well. The original film didn’t either, but it found its audience on home video years later. It was never going to be a movie that would appeal to mass audiences.
Excellent stuff, man. We seem to see this very similarly. It’s a shame that it tanked at the box-office but I think you’re right in saying that this could go down as classic just like it’s predecessor. It’s that damn good.
It really is a shame. It makes it a lot harder for filmmakers to spend the money on something out of the norm like this. Yet we get another expensive Transformers movie every other year and they manage to make money. Explain it to me bro!
I don’t get it, man. I can only assume that the masses simply don’t care for existential, artistic films that like to take their time in exploring their themes. It doesn’t surprise me to be honest. We now live in an age where the superhero has saturated the market. It’s also been detrimental to people’s attention span. I actually think that big blockbuster action spectacles year-after-year are harming films. Jodie Foster came out as said as much herself recently. I think she’s right!
That’s a keen observation. I honestly don’t want to sound like a snob (or a hypocrite since I like some of the blockbusters), but you can sense a dumbing down of movie audiences. The ‘attention span’ thing is spot-on.
I enjoy the occasional blockbuster but it’s not the first thing that I’m drawn too. To be totally honest, I’m sick to death of Superhero films, man. Really tired of seeing them every year. And most of them are rubbish as well.
As you know I’ve been a fan of the superhero movies. But I’m starting to see many of the same beats running through these movies. I’ve found myself underwhelmed with many of the more recent ones. I guess I’m starting to see them a bit more from your perspective. But it’s a shame that something like BR2049 comes along daring to be different but some can’t break out of their blockbuster shells to dig into it.
Yeah, it’s real shame that a film of great quality and substance gets practically ignored. In fact, I read an article today from Denis Villenueve where he says he’ll probably never make another film like 2049 simply because it was an artistic gamble that didn’t pay off. In time, I think it’ll go down as one of the greats (and it paid-off for me personally) but sadly didn’t make money -and that’s what the execs want at the end of the day. 😦
I saw that headline. Made me grit my teeth a bit.
I know, right? What chance have we got when films of this nature are in jeopardy. Surely this is what all filmmakers should be striving for? It now puts Villenueve’s proposed Dune film as a rusk as well. Something that I think he’ll excel at.
I forgot about Dune. That seems right up his alley especially if Deakins is involved.
It certainly has potential but there will be doubts now. As far as I’m aware it’s still in it’s early stages but what studio is going to give that film the investment it’ll need, knowing that they might take a huge loss? Sad times!
Such a sexy movie. Can’t stop watching it
Oh it’s so good. There isn’t a single wasted frame. Every shot has something worth looking at.
I hope when Deakins wins is long deserved Oscar that it will boost this film a bit. I liked it better than the original.
There’s a part of me wanting to say I liked it better too. In a way I feel that’s blasphemy, but this one is that good. And YES! Can we please give Deakins a freaking Oscar? What does the guy have to do???
BR2049 is going to find a wider audience over time on home video and streaming. At least that’s what i hope :).
I’m with you. Over time I truly feel it will be held in a much higher regard. It certainly deserved a better box office fate.
Thank you! Have you had a chance to see it?
Great review of one of the best films of last year!
Thank you! I liked it the first time I saw it, but it was the second viewing when it really clicked.
This was my favourite film of last year. I’m glad you enjoyed it and I agree, I think it will be become a classic sci fi film, maybe more on the ‘cult’ end of the scale though. I definitely need to get this on Blue Ray to give it another watch. So much in there!
I can see why it would be your favorite. I was telling someone else that it was my second viewing that did it for me. That’s when I really caught on to what the film was going for. It’s also when the emotional resonance of Gosling’s character became clear. And what did you think of Ford’s performance? Personally I found it to be some of his best work.
I thought he was great in it. It seems like Villeneuve pushed him a lot. It was quite a psychically demanding performance for an old guy.
Yep. Hard to believe he is 75 years-old.
Nice review Keith. I was surprised for how much I enjoyed 2049; the original never really needed a sequel, and yet Villeneuve brings even more out of the original Blade Runner mythos. Definitely one of my favorites from 2017.
Truly is an amazing accomplishment, isn’t it? You’re right, the original wasn’t calling for a sequel. But man I love the dedication Villeneuve and crew had to capturing the look, tone, and Ben the narrative rhythm of the original. I can’t commend them enough. I’m not sure what you think about Ryan Gosling. I’ve always been a little mixed, but he was a really good fit for this role.
I’m obsessed with Blade Runner and ever since I saw it years ago, I was hoping a sequel and glad this one lived up to my expectations. Saw it three times at the cinemas and it’s definitely my favorite film of 2017. Hopefully Deakins can win the golden statue for this film.
Man if he doesn’t he never will (until the inevitable Lifetime Achievement thing). I mean there was some great cinematography this year but what he and the production design team did in this film is jaw-dropping. And it feels perfectly in tune with the original. Incredible accomplishment. So do you also think this will get a much deserved reassessment as years go by?
Yeah I think people will learn to appreciate this one more as the years goes by. I do think that the studios kind of overestimate of how popular the original film was, I know of some people who finally saw the original film and wasn’t that impressed with it. Which is why I think this sequel failed to make big money at the box office. But I’m glad it got made and didn’t disappoint.
I have the 4K bluray disc and already watched it like 3 times!
Ha! That’s awesome. I’ve also encountered people who didn’t care for the first film. It’s such a unique thing which is one reason it’s such a classic. And Villeneuve didn’t cave in and make some lame and loud box office draw. I will always respect him for that.
Oh yes, I loved this! I am glad to see you enjoyed this one Keith. Cannot wait to check this out again.
It holds up really well during a second viewing. And a third! LOL
This is an jaw dropping and astonishing film, I saw it in IMAX back in October and was glad that no of it’s affect had dulled when I recently watched the blu-ray on my much smaller 47″ screen! Wonderful review Keith, like yourself I feel that Blade Runner 2049 will be reassessed and garner more appreciation in time.
Oh man I would have loved to see it in IMAX! Sadly our IMAX was down for renovations all summer! No Blade Runner, no Dunkirk, etc. sigh…
That’s a bummer Keith, both of those films were incredible IMAX experiences!
I bet. Actually going through BR2049 again today. Blows me away.
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