Synopsis – A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.
My Take – Don’t hate me for saying this, but I have never been a huge fan of the original 1982 sci-fi classic! While expecting a masterpiece for which it was hailed for, the uneven pacing & the unanswered questions made my experience more jaded than awed. Yet, I do recognize how iconic some elements of the Ridley Scott film was, for example, the philosophical themes explored, the predictions of 2019, the technological accomplishment (at the time) that filled to the brim with an impressive collection of special effects like the moving holographic billboards, the flying cars (which now are more of a fantasy than a reality) and a combination humans and robots called replicants, and despite being a commercial failure, how much it went on to influence a whole generation of filmmakers, who went on to contribute to the science fiction genre. However when French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve announced that he was going to do a sequel long time fans were skeptical about it saying that it wouldn’t be as good, and his direction would give the predecessor a bad name, I guess they need to re-watch films like Arrival, Sicario, Enemy and Prisoners once again. As I expected, the film successfully recaptures just about everything excellent about the original & before anything else, is an astonishing technical achievement for which it should be celebrated especially. While retaining the spirit of the first film, this sequel is a bold continuation to the story and the mystique of the original, with the main difference consisting in the fact that this new film is heavier in the cyberpunk element and lighter in the classic noir component, and even succeeds in transcending the original film. Once again based on Philip K. Dick‘s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and taking placing thirty years after the events of the first film, the story follows K (Ryan Gosling), an LAPD officer/ Blade Runner who is tasked with tracking and retiring rogue replicants of the older Nexus 8 models, who have been replaced by more- controllable Nexus 9s.
While on a mission to retire Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), a replicant protein farmer, K falls upon a long buried secret, a miracle which will threaten to shift the balance between being a human and replicant. Upon receiving orders from his officer in charge, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), K along with his Artificial Intelligence/hologram companion, Joi (Ana de Armas) begin a journey to find the source of the mystery and track down the one who seems to have all the answers – former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for decades. However, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), a visionary scientist and owner of the Wallace Corporation which took over production of the replicants after Tyrell Corporation perished has his own agenda in mind, and sends his henchwoman, Luv (Sylvia Hoek), a Nexus 9 to capture Deckard and stop K by any means possible. If you take a look at the best sequels out there, you’ll find that they don’t spend an inordinate amount of time retreading old ground at the expense of the story. Rather, a good sequel builds off of the previous film and, if done correctly, not only reinforces the previous film’s themes and message, but adds upon them in a meaningful way, this where director Denis Villeneuve succeeds! Unlike most of Hollywood’s blockbusters nowadays, he doesn’t simply delivers us a spectacle with some nice effects or a reboot of the original, but he picks up the threads where Scott left, which was a monumental task, and continues on the same topics raised by the original, making the sequel worth the 35-year long wait; it goes further with what was proposed in the first installment, enriching one another. The film erupts from the opening reel as Villeneuve drags you into the often lonely life of K who just wants to live a simple life, his character is complex yet cleverly thought out thanks to a script penned by Hampton Fancher and co-writer Michael Green they give his character a simple story but he’s emotional too dealing with feelings way beyond his thoughts. Much like the original, the film questions what makes us human, and why in the future we would attempt to differentiate ourselves from our creation, when they begin to adopt our traits. Though K appears robotic in his movements at times, in his relationships, especially that with virtual intelligence Joi, we witness how human he truly is, their romance been as inventive as it is beautiful. The film takes itself very seriously when demonstrating the poignancy of machines sharing a connection, though the themes of slavery and child-labor, despite still been major topics today, are only briefly discussed. Stylistically it is a Blade Runner film so for long-time fans the environment will be all too familiar and producer Scott who’s happy to be back in this territory he makes every collection of images as real as possible bringing director Villeneuve‘s imagination to life it really doesn’t get any better than this, especially when Ford‘s Rick Deckard comes onto the screen, the older audience will definitely smile from ear-to-ear. Story wise his character is a bit like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars: The Force Awakens he has been missing for thirty years and there is an extensive search for him. When found, Rick doesn’t take to K at first he immediately thinks that K is trying to kill him.
Though I could criticize this sequel for its anti-climatic finish, it does three things brilliantly. First, the film answers the burning questions the original refused to dignify. Secondly, the film captures the essence of the original’s universe. The world feels lived in; where technology and the metal skeletons of architecture blend; where clear demographics and political allegiances exist, an ‘us versus them’ feel emerging that mirrors the world we live in today. Thirdly, the film immerses the viewer instantly with not just the mystery of its story, but with its visuals & score. As an experience it’s a must see especially in IMAX – it’s loud ominous score quakes around the halls shattering your eardrums from the vibrations, the beautiful giant holographic billboards are enough to make your eyes pop just looking at the color and the bright city lights and the sci-fi action is riveting and fast paced. Immediately after entering the live futuristic city of Los Angeles it’s clear that director Villeneuve is right at home here using the same directing techniques he’s become accustomed with, using impressive close-ups, stunning long shots and eye-shattering panoramic shots. It is a gorgeous film to look at and Roger Deakins once again does a fabulous job in crafting the cinematography for this film. Of course, the effects are phenomenal, from the fluctuating holographic interfaces, to the flying cars; from the impressive explosions to the dystopian backwaters which surround the spurring metropolis; the effects satisfyingly developing an imperfect future. Although the effects are a necessity in the film, never does the feature become over-reliant on them, the film’s leads been the driving force of this cinematic achievement. The action is relentless, fast-paced and utterly riveting from a wide-eyed opening fight scene with Sapper Morton, through electric chase scenes to a brutal final fight scene they are compelling and Villeneuve lets them play their toll painting a shiny gloss to the end credits. This is a long film (about 163 minutes), but the world building is so fascinating and realistic that you don’t really mind the characters and camera lingering a little bit too much along urban landscapes and dilapidated buildings. The sound is thunderous and impactful, exploding across the screen with tremendous effect, while the raw, visceral musical score accompanies this perfectly, serenading us with themes that don’t just resemble, in part, the original, but a unique cyber punk style too, all thanks to the always brilliant Hans Zimmer. The only flaw I could pick out would be the slow pacing right before the final act kicks in. If you didn’t have a problem with the pacing of the original, then you probably won’t with this, though personally I do think the original was very slow and this film at least keeps you hooked on. The performances all across the board were really good; Ryan Gosling fits perfectly for his role i.e. being emotionless but so full of emotion. Sylvia Hoeks was a clear stand out thanks to her effectively eerie performance. Jared Leto despite his limited screen time was mesmerizing to watch. And of course, Harrison Ford, who reprises his Deckard role from the original still, possesses the acting ability that made him a film star (even if his best piloting days have passed him by). It’s such a thrill to see him flash the screen presence that’s been missing for many years. In supporting roles, Ana de Aramas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Lenny James, Hiam Abbas, Edward James Olmos, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abedi, David Dastmalchian and Carla Juri are good. On the whole, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a gorgeous, compelling and brilliant sci-fi sequel that does the rare honor of being better than the original.
Directed – Denis Villeneuve
Rated – R
Run Time – 163 minutes