Sequels are like any other machine. They're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem.
Blade Runner 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto.
It has become increasingly clear to me by the day that there is now not a single film in the perpetual library that is the cinema that is entirely, without question, sequel proof. If the likes of Jurassic Park and Star Wars can get sequels this far into the 20th century, then why the hell not Ridley Scott's masterpiece Blade Runner? It was actually back in 1999 that ideas of a Blade Runner sequel were in development, when British filmmaker Stuart Hazeldine wrote a sequel called Blade Runner Down, based on the novel The Edge of Human by K.W. Jeter. The sequel was turned down, though, and it took Ridley Scott years and years to try and get something going. It wasn't finally until early 2015 that the sequel was confirmed, with Denis Villeneuve slated as the director and Harrison Ford and original screenwriter Hampton Fancher also set to return.
I have yet to find another science fiction film that conveys the theme of man vs. machine better than Blade Runner, and I was highly optimistic when I learned of a sequel that offered us the opportunity to further explore the techno-fueled world of humans and replicants. Anyone who had seen any of Denis Villeneuve's previous works before seeing Blade Runner 2049 would have substantial reason to think that he could deliver us yet another exciting and sharp-minded experience, because exciting and sharp-minded experiences have been Villeneuve's track record as of late. My own personal experiences with Villeneuve's films have been somewhat disconnected with what the general agreement seems to be with the majority pool of critics and audiences. Critics and audiences raved about Sicario and Arrival, while I sat there watching both of those films thinking to myself, "I don't see where the masterful-ness is in these films." Don't get me wrong, Sicario and Arrival are nowhere near bad films. They just don't strike me as holier-than-thou movies that deserve to be preserved in the archives of "Best Films of the 2010's" as some other people have made them out to be.
So going into Blade Runner 2049, I had the luxury of having Blade Runner as my favorite science fiction film in my back pocket, so there was just no way that I couldn't love Blade Runner 2049. It had an acclaimed director at the helm, and Harrison Ford was back to reprise Deckard. All the pieces were in place, and if that wasn't enough, a good leading man in Ryan Gosling was coming along for the ride. And so what is the verdict? It's good, but not great.
Thirty years after Blade Runner, we meet new blade runner Officer K (Ryan Gosling). K is a newer replicant model who is designed to obey without question and is trained to hunt down and "retire" older replicant models. K is investigating a supposed replicant freedom movement, leading him to a farm where he discovers a box that contains human bones. The bones are discovered to be those of a female replicant who died from an emergency C-section. This is met with shock and disbelief by K and the rest of the LAPD, as they always believed pregnancy in replicants was impossible. K is ordered to destroy all evidence of the case and retire the child, as the knowledge of replicants being able to reproduce is seen as dangerous and capable of leading to war between the humans and replicants.
My only major fear with Blade Runner 2049 was that Denis Villeneuve was going to turn it into an action heavy sci-fi adventure that doesn't enhance anything about our understanding of replicants and what else might be going on outside of Los Angeles. Crisis avoided. I mean, Denis Villeneuve could've done the exact same thing with Sicario and Arrival, but neither of those films succumb to action overload. The exact opposite, actually. Sicario and Arrival, the latter not being any kind of action film whatsoever, have very controlled sequences of violence that only come when the script calls for them to. As for Blade Runner 2049, a film with a hefty 163 run time, it only brings its violence in small bunches, much like Blade Runner. Much of the space is reserved for the purely detective part of the plot, in which Officer K must uncover clues about the large mystery at hand that serves as the overarching component of the story.
- The story always remains intriguing, so much so that the film doesn't feel anywhere near as long as its 163 minutes. The absolute best thing that the story does is expand upon our perception of replicants by addressing the one remaining thing that might've still divided humans and replicants: reproduction. Our understanding of replicants from Blade Runner was that they feel no sense of empathy, detectable by the Voight-Kampff Test. But as the opening words tell us, more advanced replicants were developed in the thirty years between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, and now the understanding is that the new replicants are now soulless beings who just follow orders. Evidence of a replicant pregnancy changes everything. Now what is the dividing line between humanity and replicants? Are replicants now truly more human than human if they are indeed capable of reproducing? All of this is more thematic meat to chew on and savor.
- Once again, the Blade Runner world is a visual feast that never ceases to be a delight on the eyes. One of the neatest visuals is watching K's holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) when the two are together in K's apartment with another girl named Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). Joi "syncs up" with Mariette so that K can be intimate with her since K cannot physically touch Joi. Joi and Mariette's faces continuously fade in and out as we see their bodies meshed together into one. There are also eye-candy holograms that we see throughout Los Angeles while K is either walking or flying around doing his work. You can't help but just marvel at at least something.
- While the plot is interesting and expansive, it also is heavily jumbled. A subplot involving Jared Leto's character goes absolutely nowhere, and it takes a little too long for the plot to get out of its strict detective stage. Blade Runner was relatively light on plot, always remaining highly philosophical about its world and what it could mean in relation to us as a human race. Blade Runner 2049 is crowded with solving a mystery, which, while interesting, does take away from a deeper look on its man vs. machine take that could've made it truly great up alongside Blade Runner. The film largely slides on the surface of truly great for short stretches, but just can't quite make the big impact.
My ongoing relationship with Denis Villeneuve can be best summed up as me finding his films to be good, but struggling to uncover why they're considered great. The beat goes on with Blade Runner 2049, a film that is a worthy sequel to Blade Runner, but not quite a terrific science fiction film in its own right. And in case you were wondering, it does set itself up for another sequel. It took me multiple viewings to fully appreciate Blade Runner for what it really is, and that might mean I need to give Blade Runner 2049 multiple viewings down the road to honor it with masterpiece status.
Recommend? Yes, even though it's very long. Watch Blade Runner first.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: