An Atomic Moo Movie Review of Blade Runner 2049!
The opinions expressed in the following review of Blade Runner 2049, do not necessarily reflect those of AtomicMoo.com, its staff, or its sponsor, Pan Am.
We find ourselves living in dangerous days. In today’s entertainment industry, creativity is uncreative. Originality is unoriginal. All too often, companies heartlessly reimagine, rebrand, relaunch, and rehash beloved old brands, viewing them as nothing more than “intellectual properties” ripe for monetization. But only someone extremely skillful or excessively vain would think himself capable of making any kind of worthwhile sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. And yet, Blade Runner 2049 is now playing in theatres everywhere. It’s too bad it can’t possibly live up to any expectations — but then again, what does?
Based on legendary science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s timeless 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner starred Harrison Ford as a down-on-his-luck cop in the futuristic Los Angeles of the far-flung year 2019, hunting rogue humanoid androids known as Replicants. This was not called execution. It was called retirement. It’s not hard to see why Blade Runner became a cult classic: an otherworldly soundtrack by Vangelis, incredible visuals, a grim depiction of futuristic urban decay, fan-favourite Harrison Ford as a believable everyman rather than a larger-than-life hero with a smug lopsided grin… Dripping with atmosphere, Blade Runner codified cyberpunk’s look and sound. To this day, it is still a genre characterized by neon lights, synths, overarching despair, and tears in the rain. Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner is a deliberately-paced sci-fi masterpiece.
Denis Villeneuve’s sequel Blade Runner 2049 is a deliberately-paced sci-fi masterpiece.
This is not the kind of movie you can rate out of five stars, then forget about and move on. (“Not two, FOUR! And NOODLES!”) True to the original film, 2049 follows a lone blade runner on a slow-paced investigative thriller through a shadowy cyberpunk future that is both awe-inspiring and terrifying, plausible yet horrible. Built upon the foundation laid by Ridley Scott’s classic, 2049 tells a similar story with many parallels, but it still manages to have its own identity. It is not a mere retelling of the original film, even though both ostensibly tell their own tale of a conflicted blade runner tracking down Replicants while finding more questions than answers, with important subplots involving an artificial woman they hold dear.
Ryan Gosling stars as a quiet, reserved blade runner who, after a routine Replicant retirement, accidentally stumbles upon a thirty-year-old mystery which could rewrite the rules of Blade Runner’s world. His search for clues takes him from the massive, wedge-shaped LAPD building to the headquarters of the Wallace Corporation, who took over the Tyrell Corporation and built an even bigger pyramid out of the old Tyrell campus from the first film. The search for answers drives the tight-lipped blade runner into the bustling, rain-soaked neon-lit streets, to the off-the-grid society living in the junkyards beyond the city limits, and even into the irradiated wasteland of the kipple, not seen in the first movie but explored in Philip K. Dick’s novel and Westwood’s computer game that blended book and film.
Even though he does not talk much, Gosling’s character is never alone. His superior officer is on his case, the virtual eyes of surveillance equipment (friendly and otherwise) track his every move, and whether he finds himself surrounded by the shady citizens of Animoid Row, slave children in the junkyard, beautiful prostitutes, or the cagey business types from the Wallace Corporation, danger lurks around every corner and those he can trust are few and far between. His story does not directly mirror Deckard’s adventure from the first film, but there are parallels. Not to mention Deckard himself.
Gosling shares the screen with Harrison Ford, returning once again as ex-cop, ex-killer, ex-blade runner Rick Deckard. An important character in the investigation, Deckard has been in hiding since the events of the first film. Make no mistake, 2049 is not merely a story set within the Blade Runner universe but a sequel – old fans will be treated with some familiar sights and sounds. Thirty years have passed since the events of Scott’s Blade Runner: The Final Cut, the version of the first movie which Villeneuve has confirmed his film follows. The amount of questions the original film left unanswered grows, and the characters of 2049 risk life and limb to solve its many mysteries.
Speaking of Harrison Ford, it was a real treat to see him not only return to one of his greatest characters, but to actually act again. Ford delivers a surprisingly emotional performance, rendered all the more powerful due to the context of a particular scene. Deckard is through running, blade running or otherwise, and is simply a tired old man. The rest of the cast deliver strong performances as well, such as Gosling’s character keeping an air of calm professionalism despite the struggles of his unique line of work – until he is simply no longer able to.
Blade Runner 2049’s technical aspects are superb. Composition and lighting are exquisite, as you would expect from a film worthy of the title Blade Runner. World design, much like set design, is top-notch, with meticulously-detailed physical sets brought to life with practical effects and improved with special effects, lit well and perfectly captured on camera. Naturally, there is a copious amount of CGI, but for the most part, it feels well-blended with the world, does not draw attention to itself, and used with purpose rather than simply exist as a large-budget display of Hollywood excess. Again, very true to the original film.
One of the reasons it so faithful to Blade Runner might be the amount of returning veterans from the first film. Bud Yorkin returns as a producer. Ridley Scott returns not as director but as executive producer and was on the set to give input. The story and screenplay are once again by Hampton Fancher. Of course, director Denis Villeneuve’s respect for the original film cannot be ignored. Neither can the return of Harrison Ford to the character of Rick Deckard.
Bare in mind that this cinematic sci-fi experience is not a short one. Clocking in at two hours and forty-four deliberately-paced minutes, Blade Runner 2049 somehow manages to drag its feet even more than the original, which earned it the notorious nickname of “Blade Crawler.” This is not an action movie. It is a slow-paced hard-sci-fi art film, which makes it even more surprising that it was made at all, especially as a big-budget blockbuster from a major studio. Villeneuve’s work feels like the sort of film that should be touring the tournament circuit as a low-budget student project rather than have big-name actors and a cult-classic brand tied to it while it gets screened in megaplexes around the world. And I do mean in that greatest way possible.
Blade Runner 2049 is not without its faults. The story in particular relies upon a startling revelation that contradicts Chapter Sixteen of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but more importantly, feels like bad fan fiction. It would seem that the writer really ran with the concept of the Replicant as “the humanoid robot – strictly speaking, the organic android” as outlined in Chapter Two of the novel. Granted, the films are only based on and inspired by Philip K. Dick’s book and do not take it as canon, and the idea has apparently come up in other Blade Runner media, but it still feels tacky at best. Furthermore, the fact that Replicants are in fact fabricated labourers and not living, feeling human beings with rights, makes it impossible to take seriously the film’s presentation of Replicants as a downtrodden, second-class people, as they are in fact manufactured slaves.
Hans Zimmer provides the music this time around, and rather than simply make a soundtrack, he has created a haunting audioscape to perfectly complement the images on screen. The result is a chilling atmosphere of mystery and wonder, but a departure from Vangelis’ electronic sound, a trademark of the first film. Classic Vangelis tracks, such as the timeless “Blade Runner Blues” and original movie’s end credits theme, are nowhere to be found. At least one scene featured old-world music, but “One More Kiss, Dear” did not make its return. Vangelis’ “Tears in the Rain” is heard, and a take on the classic Main Titles theme is used in marketing materials, but the classic synthesizer-focused future-noir sound of Blade Runner is missing from 2049, which has its own musical identity.
All in all, I am stunned. Not only is Blade Runner 2049 a fantastic cyberpunk art film, it actually manages to be a worthy sequel to my all-time favourite movie. In an age where needless reimaginings and unnecessary sequels get churned out without craft or effort, this film’s mere existence is no small miracle, and makes it even more of an achievement. Blade Runner 2049 is not to be missed. Félicitations, M. Villeneuve. You’ve done a man’s job, sir.
This movie review is provided by Atomic Moo’s designated Canadian, Numbers, who dreams of electric sheep, wants more life, and will tell you about his mother. His opinions are facts.