Sprint to the theater to see ‘Blade Runner 2049’
REVIEW — The original “Blade Runner” from 1982 is controversial yet unanimously accepted as a modern sci-fi classic. The film has been modified into several different cuts over many decades to satisfy either the production executives or director Ridley Scott but never both. Fans detest the narration-riddled theatrical cuts and praise the subtler final cut.
The film explores what it means to be human among near perfect robots used as slaves in a cyberpunk hell-scape — the look of which inspired most future science fiction film and anime classics. We wouldn’t have the iconic looks of “Ghost in the Shell” (1995), the “Matrix” trilogy, “Total Recall” (1990) or any other dystopian films if not for Scott’s vision.
Cinephiles have deemed “Blade Runner” a masterpiece over the years, yet I have never truly accepted it. The film’s pacing is slow enough so I could marvel at the visual splendor but so much so that it diluted my interest in the plot. The film works to raise questions about what makes us all human and what differentiates our real memories from memories implanted in cybernetic organisms, known in the film as replicants.
Detective Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, hunts down defunct replicants in futuristic Los Angeles in 2019 as what is known in this world as a blade runner. He journeys into a state of mind, pondering what makes us different from robots and whether or not he is one. I respect “Blade Runner” as a pioneer in the sci-fi genre and in modern visual effects, but as a movie, it comes off as a bit boring and one-note. I don’t feel the film completely finished answering all of its pondered questions — or at least did not resonate with me as much as it should. It doesn’t help that I had dozed off twice during my first viewing, but it’s a film worth revisiting just for its sheer ambition.
All that being said, I was surprised to realize that watching the first film is not necessary to enjoy “Blade Runner 2049.” Sure, there might be easter eggs and references that impact your understanding of the plot, but overall, the movie works as a standalone. The more intriguing plot within a 30-year-old world that had initially captivated me convinced me that this film surpasses its predecessor. “Blade Runner 2049” might be one of the greatest sequels of all time.
While that is not a high bar to reach, the most apt comparison appears to be with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991). Both enhance the best aspects of their predecessor with heightened visual effects, while maintaining a necessary emotional resonance. After a long grace period between releases, the sequels return to explore deeper into their respective worlds and make their characters multifaceted.
I will not reveal anything about the plot. The film is filled with twists and turns, surprising reveals and riveting hooks that are best experienced in the theater. All I will disclose is Ryan Gosling plays a blade runner who has uncovered a truth about this world’s caste-based society and the future of the relationship between man and replicant. The film returns to the existential questions of its predecessor with further complexity when introducing unexpected layers such as self-aware holograms and uncertainties between what feels emotionally and physically real and what is fabricated.
The pacing, while just as slow if not slower than the first film, seems to naturally fit the story structure. Some may say the two hour, 44-minute run time is excessive, but I feel it is a perfect length.
From a technical standpoint, this film is flawless. “2049” features some of the best production design and visual effects I have seen this decade, elevated by the masterful direction of the camera by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. The film will most likely win, let alone get nominated, for at least three of these categories. This is why I would prefer you go see the film in a larger theater than our local and beloved Embassy Cinema. The cinematic experience is worth the venture outside Waltham.
Among all this praise there are some shortcomings, though few and far between. I am wary of Jared Leto. He may have captured our hearts in “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013), but his on- and off-screen shenanigans are affecting his performances. His presence in this film was completely unnecessary. He has intimidating monologues in a couple of scenes, but his evil henchwoman easily could have held her own throughout as she performed most of the menacing actions. I anticipate her actress, Sylvia Hoeks, will get quite a few offers after this. Ryan Gosling’s B-plot love story, while thematically essential and interesting, meandered quite a bit. It made for some fascinating visuals in a particularly disturbing scene, but could have easily been scrapped. In terms of a nitpick I have, there were certain echoes of past lines earlier in the movie that somewhat beat you over the head with what was being conveyed thematically. The film lost some of its subtlety in these few scenes.
After “Blade Runner 2049,” its director, Denis Villeneuve, should be on every moviegoer’s radar. Alongside Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, Villeneuve will be part of a group of directors that sells theater tickets with only the mention of his name. His past hits such as “Enemy,” “Sicario” and “Arrival” are excellent movies to boast about in his filmography, but “2049” beats them all with the exception of “Prisoners,” which gets slight edge above as my favorite.
Though I give “2049” an A-, I have yet to fully digest the film. It makes me wonder if my feeling for this movie was similar to that of audiences walking out of theaters in 1982. Is this the passion and enthusiasm I had glossed over when I finished watching the “Blade Runner?” Until I figure out the answer to this question, “2049” will float around in the latter half of my top five films of 2017.