Spoiler-Free Movie Review: ‘BLADE RUNNER 2049’ is a tremendously astute, sparkling spectacle
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
BLADE RUNNER 2049
It’s taken 35 years to get a BLADE RUNNER sequel – and thank God the resulting product doesn’t disappoint. From what we’ve seen from other franchises that have experienced similar decades-long gestation periods (films like BLUES BROTHERS 2000, DUMB AND DUMBER TO, and TRON LEGACY), things could’ve gone enormously wrong when it came to BLADE RUNNER 2049. Yet much like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, it never fails us. Director Denis Villeneuve’s entrancing, awe-inducing spectacle not only follows up on some major lingering questions that have haunted cinephiles, launching them into heated debates, but also marinates longer on Ridley Scott’s original heady concepts and gift for striking world-building.
LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) is good at his job as a “Blade Runner,” a specialized department agent who hunts replicants. That’s not to say he doesn’t experience his own daily hardships from his boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) and community at large. While out in the field, K unearths a thirty year old buried secret – one that leads him on a massive search for something bigger than himself. The highly-classified case holds the utmost importance to all involved as it could potentially push their society into chaos. So it’s no wonder why blind billionaire businessman (IT’S A METAPHOR!) Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) begins seeking the same knowledge as K – though, granted, with more greedy and nefarious motivations. K’s quest takes him to the outskirts where he finds missing former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who doesn’t take too kindly to visitors.
As shown in his previous works (PRISONERS, ENEMY, SICARIO and ARRIVAL) and further demonstrated here, Villeneuve is a highly skilled auteur in every sense of the word. And because this is such a collaborative art form, he’s gathered quite a team of talents to surround himself with as well. He curates atmospheric tension, movement and emotion in innovative ways – through unique soundscapes, like Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s score, and the gorgeous, “fall on your knees and weep” visuals as constructed in concert with Roger Deakins’ staggering cinematography. Dennis Gassner’s sharp, sleek production design augments things further. He’s built a tangible, real world – a sandbox which the actors pull from for enriched authenticity in this unreality. Renée April’s costume design holds the keys to these characters’ personalities – a story told through fabric, color, and aesthetics. Coats, like K’s heavy leather collared jacket, emphasize 2049’s harsh, cold environments and temperatures. Wallace’s Japanese-style clothing pulls from reality, but also complements his art-of-war business mentality and zen way of speaking. Villeneuve masters layered filmmaking; you can watch this without sound and it would be just as informative (but please do watch it with sound as our boyfriend Baby Goose’s voice is smooth like butter and you don’t wanna miss Ford’s grizzle).
This is also a win for empowering female heroes in cinema. The women that populate the picture are genuinely dynamic, offering us a range of powerhouses to hold up as paragons. K’s companion Joi (Ana de Armas) demonstrates a soulful, poignant range of care-taking facets in the female psyche. Lt. Joshi is not solely her job, though you do get the sense she’s got armor up because of refined survival skills. She’s so much more than a “frigid witch” trope – something it easily could’ve turned into. Wallace’s right hand henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) absolutely steals every scene she’s in. She’s a true badass – a smart, sexy, strong, darkly humorous and vulnerable woman. There’s a move she does at the end of one pivotal, edge-of-your-seat sequence that will be on future lists of the most memorable on-screen moments. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s a power move that will elicit cheers.
Unlike the first BLADE RUNNER, which can be wonderfully ambiguous depending on which of the handful of cuts you watch, this sequel, derived from a story by Hampton Fancher and screenplay by Michael Green (LOGAN, ALIEN: COVENANT), is much more palatable and understandable. That’s not to say it’s simplistic. It’s not. There’s plenty of provocative, philosophical thematic content to chew on. Like me, you may want to hit the pause button on a few of these deep thoughts. My small, lone gripe comes when the filmmakers, in essence, drop the curtain and give us a sequence that’s not nearly as clever and forward-thinking as the other two big, character-driven action set pieces. Though it leads us into a beautiful, coherently-assembled segment, overall it feels like a mandatory studio executive note, answering to fanboy wants more than something that propels the character drama forward.
Sure there are a few fun allusions to the original, treated with absolute reverence. However, Villeneuve wisely never goes overboard on the masturbatory aspect to that kind of nostalgia. He’s more interested in playing with the toys in his own toy box.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 opens on October 6.