Blade Runner is an interesting property. The first film premiered in 1982, and wasn’t much of a success. But it gained a cult following afterwards, fame growing steadily, until now, where it’s considered a classic.
I rewatched it right before going to 2049, and while it’s not a favorite of mine, I do appreciate it. The cinematography, the design, the acting, and the themes are all really well done. It’s a fine film, but I completely understand why many people don’t like it. It’s a very slow film, and for a noir, there is not much mystery to it. A lot of the plot is laid out in front of you, and Harrison Ford’s character Deckard doesn’t do much actual detective work.
Much to my surprise, 2049 was nothing like what I thought it was going to be. Big budget, high profile movies today aren’t slow, methodical, or idea heavy. Except for this one. I loved the restraint shown by the studios to make this film faithful the original. They could have easily gone and made this like the Robocop or Total Recall reboots, but they didn’t. Though that might turn general audiences away, and 2049 might end up in the same position as the original. That being said, in a time where so much of the industry is shitting out reboots and sequels, this is one of the few where I enjoyed the new much more than the old.
I probably should have lead with this, but 2049 is two hours and forty five minutes long. And for a movie this slow, I feel most people are gonna leave this film bored and annoyed. Much like the first one. That’s probably the one criticism I have, but it’s a minor one. Director Denis Villeneuve is known for slow paced films, and he was the perfect fit for the job. Unlike a lot of Marvel and Star Wars properties, they picked a director who has already shown what kind of filmmaker he really is, and let him do what he does best. Just go watch Sicario, Arrival, or Prisoners and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The themes that were explored in the original are still here and are expanded upon, exploring the concept of love between artificial constructs with Ryan Gosling’s Officer K and his holographic girlfriend Joi, played by Ana de Armas. There are a couple of great scenes that show how their love is both so real, but in the end disposable and paper thin. It’s super depressing to think about, so don’t think too much on it. The whole “what is humanity” thing is fully on Officer K, and his arc is beautifully tragic. He basically has the inverse problem of Deckard from the original. We know from the beginning that K is a replicant, but as the movie progresses, it’s revealed that he might be more than we initially thought.
My god this movie is beautiful. They managed to make this movie stand on its own visually while still making it feel a part of the same world as the original. Cinematographer Roger Deakins made the world much bleaker by making the whole look grayer, a stark contrast from the black, neon, and spotlight approach that Ridley Scott took on the first film. The set design is super interesting too. While they still have a lot of that 80’s sci-fi tech, they made it seem like the world had evolved technologically, adding in holograms and other cool stuff. It made everything feel authentic. Warner Bros. also released three short films that precede 2049 chronologically, that not only give context to certain parts of the film, but also allow you to see two of the characters that were a little underused in the film. I highly suggest watching them, especially Blackout 2022, which is gorgeously animated by the same team that made Cowboy Bebop.
While there weren’t any super stand out performances, everyone did really well, there were a couple stand out scenes for me. First of which is when Officer K is talking with a memory maker. Ryan’s performance in that scene was intense, the most intensity I’ve ever seen from him. It’s an especially surprising scene given how subdued his acting was before that moment. The second is one towards the end of the film between Deckard and Jared Leto’s character Niander Wallace. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ford cry. And it was damn good, a damn good subtle cry.
In one of the reviews I listened to, I heard a guy give probably the best description of 2049 you could possibly get. To paraphrase, Blade Runner 2049 is what you thought you were watching when you watched the original Blade Runner. And that’s not to shit on the previous one, again to paraphrase, but 2049 instead makes the previous one better, expanding on its world, characters and ideas while still standing on it’s own visually and stylistically. Unfortunately, due to that style, the length and pacing may turn away a lot of viewers, which is a shame, but understandable. I just hope that this film makes enough money to show studios the importance of quality. But I doubt the studios will see it that way.