Blade Runner 2049 is a damn fine film.
Blade Runner 2049 is a better film than we could have ever dreamed it would be, a damn near perfect sequel to one of the most highly regarded sci-fi/thrillers of all-time.
But, let's be honest.
Blade Runner 2049 is a replicant. Virtually identical to Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 is, in fact, seemingly superior to its predecessor in many ways largely courtesy of the greatly enhanced technology of the past thirty years and, yes, partly because of a bigger and badder and better ensemble cast.
It would seem.
But, Blade Runner 2049 is a replicant.
Here's the thing. I believe this to be an intentional, artistic choice from one of contemporary cinema's most gifted and intelligent filmmakers. Denis Villeneuve is so gifted at creating intelligent and entertaining sci-fi/thrillers that he makes James Cameron's shlock look like My Little Pony: The Movie.
So, yeah. Villeneuve created this beast of a film intentionally and masterfully and intelligently.
But not, I'd dare say, soulfully.
Blade Runner 2049 is a replicant. It is a beautifully manifested film, perpetual Oscar bridesmaid Roger Deakins' lensing creating such a mesmerizing world that it's nearly impossible not to imagine that Deakins may very well, and should very well, finally snag that golden statuette that continues to elude him after 13 Oscar nominations.
Mark my words. Deakins wins it this year.
Blade Runner 2049 is that rare sequel that completely justifies its existence, perhaps one of the finest sequels ever made and certainly one of the finest sequels made in recent years. Villeneuve has clearly studied every moment and every nuance of Blade Runner, yet he has done so with his own artistic integrity remaining intact.
Blade Runner 2049 is both a Denis Villeneuve film and, yes, a rather remarkable sequel. Somehow, almost unfathomably, the two peacefully co-exist.
The film opens with Agent K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner whose job is to reveal and retire rebel replicants. These are old school replicants, Nexus 8s, that were manufactured without terminal dates and without the obedience and emotional restraint programmed into them.
Blade Runner 2049 creates this world masterfully, though it is a world that feels more intentional and more manufactured than it did in the original Blade Runner. In essence, it is a replicant of the Blade Runner world yet it is very difficult to tell and it's entirely likely that very few moviegoers will be bothered by the intentional replication.
Loosely inspired by Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," Blade Runner is, indeed, a rather masterful replicant, a disciplined and immersive creation that updates and greatly expands upon the themes contained within its 1982 predecessor yet does so in a way that feels contemporary and even immediate.
This work of dystopian fiction doesn't feel like dystopian fiction, its finely developed world seemingly co-existing directly alongside our own and its themes seemingly running parallel to our own existence. Agent K hunts these replicants at the command of his lieutenant (Robin Wright), a chilly presence seemingly bent on preserving replicant subservience to the human existence despite a growing inability to distinguish the two. K's on-again, off-again girlfriend (Ana de Armas) is nothing more than a role player here, though that could easily be said of several of the film's female players. He lives in an apartment that can't help but evoke memories of his predecessor, the mysterious Deckard (Harrison Ford), whose presence we already know to be woven into the fabric of Blade Runner 2049.
The rest of Blade Runner 2049 shall remain a mystery, at least in this review. It's not just because the filmmakers have practically demanded that to be so, but because this is a film best experienced with its mystery intact.
Blade Runner 2049 is a replicant, but it is an immensely satisfying one with both nods to its predecessor yet visions and creations all its own. Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green have dreamed up remarkable complexities without losing the desired connection to Blade Runner. Dennis Gassner's production design is sort of a steam punk meets neo-noir with touches that expand upon the Blade Runner universe with tremendous impact including a certain art deco palace where Deckard's mysteries begin to be revealed and a retro-styled orphanage that gives the film an emotional resonance that is, unfortunately, far too lacking throughout the film's nearly three-hour running time. Even the score, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is a replicant of sorts as it both channels the iconic work of Vangelis yet also manifests a unique aural vision all its own.
Gosling is the kind of actor who's never been afraid of challenging himself and, love him or hate him, that's very much what happens here as K is a role unlike anything else Gosling has tackled. He's immensely successful here and it's not out of the question for Gosling to snag his second Academy Award nomination in a row after last year's La La Land nod. Gosling's K is, by necessity, a much more internalized character. While not entirely devoid of charm, it would be like asking Tom Cruise to play a character without doing everything that Tom Cruise does to be recognized as Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise couldn't do it. Ryan Gosling does it.
Harrison Ford may be the film's biggest surprise, ultimately far surpassing his performance in the original Blade Runner with a performance that oozes authenticity and humanity and charisma and will most assuredly be recognized with an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor.
There are issues with the film, though they are frequently overwhelmed by its awesomeness. Jared Leto, for one, is tasked with playing a character who feels out of place here and Leto's typically over-the-top performance doesn't help matters any. I was grateful every time his presence left the screen. There are also story segments that ultimately serve to reveal that despite Blade Runner 2049 being a pretty amazing film it is still, in fact, a replicant.
There is much more that could be said. Heck, there's much more that should be said. However, Blade Runner 2049 is a film that begs to be seen before it can truly be discussed. While I'd argue that exclamations that Blade Runner 2049 is the best picture ever made or a masterpiece are wildly overstated, the film is still a stunning success and, without question, a damn near perfect sequel and, one could easily say, perhaps the finest replicant ever made.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic