Enhance. Enhance. Enhance. Enhance.
In 1982, Blade Runner released to disappointment at the box office, but has since lived on as a cult classic and landmark sci-fi film. In 2017, Blade Runner 2049 released, and currently, it’s struggling at the box office too. However, like its predecessor, 2049 will endure long after it leaves theaters. It’s not only one of the best movies of 2017, but one of the best sequels of all time.
30 years after the events of the first film, 2049 follows K (Ryan Gosling) a police officer (“blade runner”) whose sole duty is to hunt down older models of replicants (synthetic humans) and “retire” them. However, K begins to unravel a mystery seemingly connected to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), and perhaps, himself.
That’s as detailed as I want to get with the plot. Before we get into the review, big props to the marketing for the film, as a significant number of reveals and twists aren’t spoiled in any trailers, and I dare not dive into them here.
Instead, I implore you to go see Blade Runner 2049. Like right now. It actively improves upon the classic original film while also standing alone as a gorgeous and meaningful work of science fiction.
Let’s get the obvious out-of-the-way first: this movie is astoundingly beautiful. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, two of the greatest talents of their respective fields, have crafted a future that is so seamlessly advanced and yet somehow plausible. Stunningly realistic hovercars zoom around the film’s futuristic world, but they never seem alien. Tiny details like the trash littering the inside of K’s car give this world personality and grit, tethering you to a reality that’s familiar yet out of your reach.
The dark, wet, and neon-coated Los Angeles where the first film took place returns, but complimented with a variety of other exquisite locations and biomes. There’s snow covered industrial parks and piercing deserts, all masterfully shot and nearly overwhelming to take in. I’m sure I didn’t need to tell you all that, but 2049 is stunning to look at and the pinnacle of visual effects. In fact, there’s an actor de-aged through CGI, one of my biggest pet peeves in movies today, that actually looks good! Screw you CGI Jeff Bridges, Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp, Kurt Russell, and Grand Moff Tarkin!
Perhaps why Blade Runner 2049 is such a triumph is because the film actively responds to the shortcomings of its predecessor, while still satisfying if you have not seen the original. Specifically, 2049 has a very engaging protagonist with K. I love Harrison Ford, and he gives his best performance in years in 2049, but Deckard is a weak and boring protagonist in the first film. He emotionless and dull, and no, I don’t buy that it’s because he may or may not be a replicant. K however, is a dynamic character. He can be emotionally reserved and cold, which he is more often than not. But, as his character unravels the mystery surrounding him, he begins to doubt all he’s ever known, and Gosling sells this through shorts fits of rage and pathos. K can be unnerving, but his arc and persona is human. And a real hero. Real human being.
No more memes, back to the review. Another way 2049 improves upon the original is through the main character’s romantic relationship. Deckard’s romance with Rachael the replicant in the original is problematic at the very least, and agreeably, extremely creepy. Deckard is brash and almost cruel towards Rachael, and basically forces himself on her. Cue the 80s lack of consent sax. In 2049, K and his relationship with his girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) is, like K himself, engaging and real. To avoid spoilers, it’s very unconventional, but still emotionally charged and lends heart to the film in unexpected and sweet ways.
A word of warning: Blade Runner 2049 is long. Two hours 43 minutes long. However, never is there a minute that feels like padding or wasted time. Every minute has purpose and a function within the greater narrative. There isn’t a lengthy scene of K saying “enhance” over and over again. However, if you were turned off by the pace of the original Blade Runner, 2049 may not be for you. There aren’t action set pieces every 15 minutes; this is an unraveling mystery that soaks up the atmosphere it creates. There are also, unfortunately, a few bits of replayed dialogue which is probably an attempt to drive important themes into the audience so they don’t forget, but more often than not this feels like unnecessary pandering.
Theres’s too much to say about Blade Runner 2049. I didn’t dive into the fantastic score or supporting cast (Jared Leto plays a creepy weirdo and it works (I know, what a surprise)), but most of it speaks for itself. The visuals and character intricacies that densely unfold in front of you demand to be seen on the big screen. Don’t let this film be lost in time like tears in the rain (sorry), experience it now.