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Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Premise: A sequel to the 1982 film. Thirty years after the original, synthetic human beings, known as replicants, are now tolerated on Earth. A replicant police detective (Ryan Gosling) discovers a long buried secret whose implications could change the course of civilization.

What Works: Blade Runner was not a major success in 1982 but in the years since (and with the release of alternate versions) the movie has earned a special place in the canon of science fiction and become one of the most popular and influential titles in the genre. The sequel comes more than three decades since the release of the original film and Blade Runner 2049 is of a piece with its progenitor. The filmmakers recapture the look of the original, which established a techno-noir style that was imitated in virtually every dystopia and futuristic metropolis later envisioned on film. The settings and costumes of Blade Runner 2049 have that same gritty and practical reality and the visual texture leaps off the screen. This film looks beautiful. The camera sweeps through urban canyons and follows the characters through decaying buildings and wastelands that are marvelously photographed by cinematographer Roger Deakins. The visual style complements the story. The plot of Blade Runner 2049 is mostly straightforward and in some respects this is a more accessible film than the original. However, the Blade Runner sequel is no less intelligent and the movie is packed with big ideas. Like a lot of stories about artificial intelligence, Blade Runner 2049 is about the distinction between us and them—human people and synthetic people—and the collapsing difference between them. Blade Runner 2049 takes these ideas in some exciting and provocative directions. It is implied that the replicants are evolving and that speaks to the deeper issue at hand in the Blade Runner series: our relationship with technology and the way machinery and digital representations can be as real for us as actual human relationships. In that respect, Blade Runner 2049 is an impressive sequel. It doesn’t just rehash the original picture. Instead, the follow up takes advantage of the passage of time to move the story and the ideas forward and take the series to a new and interesting place.

What Doesn’t: Blade Runner 2049 has both the virtues and shortcomings of its predecessor. Like the original film, this is a slow movie. It doesn’t feel unnecessarily long but Blade Runner 2049 is a pensive film. It has the scale and production value of a blockbuster movie but it doesn’t have the commercial sensibilities of that kind of picture. This is a thoughtful film whose style is going to limit the movie’s appeal. Also like the 1982 film, Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t have much in the way of character. The replicant detective, played by Ryan Gosling, goes on a journey of self-discovery and changes his perspective of himself and the world in which he lives. But everyone else in the movie is under-characterized, especially the villainous master of industry played by Jared Leto. It’s never clear what Leto’s character wants and so the movie doesn’t have compelling stakes with the protagonist and antagonist actively in conflict. That leads to another shortcoming of Blade Runner 2049; the movie’s lack of exposition. Among the most praised qualities of the original Blade Runner is the way it dropped the audience into this world and provided contextual clues to help us figure out what was going on. The sequel tries to do the same but there’s not enough information for the audience to orient themselves. The police lieutenant played by Robin Wright is concerned that the foundations of civilization could be overturned but it’s not clear why. Had this been clearer it would have enhanced the thematic content of the story while also making the dramatic conflict more meaningful.

Bottom Line: Blade Runner 2049 is a thoughtful and wonderfully crafted piece of work. The movie is slow and cerebral and it isn’t necessarily going to appeal to the Star Wars and Avengers audience. But neither did the original and Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy follow up to its predecessor.

Episode: #669 (October 15, 2017)