Blade Runner 2049
November 1, 2017
Ana de Armas
2 Hrs., 44 Mins.
onsider Blade Runner 2049 (2017), the sequel we didn’t know we needed until the winter of 2015, to be Blade Runner (1982) elongated. The images and themes conjured up by the mere mentioning of the latter’s film’s very name are all here: if you liked the earlier look of rainfall pattering against neon and smog, and if you liked the existential wonderings of what it really
meant to be human, 2049 has you covered. But make no mistake: this isn’t fan service. As this 163-minute sci-fi epic lumbers forward, it becomes clear-cut that it never intended to pander to the Bigger is Better sequel ideology — the original Scott film is untouchable, and 2049 knows it.
What it wants to be is its own work of slow-burning, philosophical, and visually colossal spectacle, the most prominent commonality simply its being set in the same universe as its influential predecessor.
Because it follows in the footsteps of a one-of-a-kind genre film which practically changed the face of science fiction the moment it premiered 35 years ago, on everyone’s minds is the deciding where 2049 stands in comparison. Having admired everything about the original Blade Runner but nonetheless remaining slightly isolated from it, it’s not such a surprise that 2049 invokes a similar response, with a hint of supplemental fatigue.
The visuals, this time overseen by cinematographer Roger Deakins in a career-best showcase, retain the same cyberpunk meets film noir photographic edge. The thematics, heavy as ever, continue to ponder the meaning of existence, especially wondering what it really takes to reach self-actualization. And the larger budget —amounting to somewhere north of $150 million — helps increase that scope. The movie’s so visually boundless and innovative that the cumbersome concepts put forth by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s screenplay appear much more grandiose in their form and delivery.
But one of the things that made the 1982 Blade Runner so much more digestible was its still being streamlined in spite of its big intellectual and optical ideas. It threw in a basic thriller plot to keep us busy, only to further legitimize its weightier inclinations at the right times in the right places. It was an action movie that could facilely entertain us just as well as it could intellectually, even if it still sometimes seemed a bit too smitten with its own ambitions.
By contrast, 2049 is so cinematic that it forgets to be much more than its craft and its ideas. While not exactly a bad thing — how rare it is to see filmmaking with a capital F be brought to 2,000-plus theaters — the film is so momentous in its every aspiration that we feel vaguely alienated by it. It’s too gargantuan, both physically and psychologically, to be intimate, always exceeding our grasp just as we’re trying to lose ourselves in it. It’s the maddening type of exemplarily made film that manages to leave us cold whenever it finishes briefly setting our senses afire.
For the sake of protecting director Denis Villeneuve’s determination to keep the details of 2049 shrouded in secrecy, I’ll keep the synopsis brief. Set 30 years after the events witnessed in the earlier feature, the film follows the exploits of a younger Blade Runner (Ryan Gosling) who’s been called in to track down and exterminate the missing offspring of a dead replicant. (Or, as a newcomer might see them, an android.)
This plot feels secondary in comparison to the various identity crises being had throughout 2049, though. Of utmost importance is its protagonist’s coming to terms with who he is: midway through the movie, he discovers that much of what he’s come to know about himself just might be a fabrication. Which, as fans of the original might notice, does not make for all that major a contrast from the earlier Blade Runner. 2049’s just more sweeping, and features a larger number of extraneous storylines and characters which vary in their ability to compel us.
But we’re compelled often, and that’s the key to 2049’s being a must-watch, especially in the confines of a theater. Even if its thematics appear heavy-handed and pretentious, and even if its pacing seems slack, come for its abundance of startling visual ideas and solid performances (Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks particularly stand out as vastly different replicants).
Because aside from Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), arguably one of the more successfully fearless science-fiction films of the decade, seeing genre fare so risky in its every technical and artistic move is a rarity. One might wish 2049 were as absorbable as its predecessor. But watching an epic, bleak dystopian fantasy with a lot on its mind was never purported to be easy, now was it? B+