Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Movie Review: BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)


Director: Denis Villeneuve
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista
Runtime: 163 min
Rating: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Purchasing Links: DVD, Blu-ray

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

I've always believed that Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" was long-overdue for a sequel. So, I was elated when they announced "Blade Runner 2049" was happening. Apparently not everyone was as enthusiastic about it. Despite the hype Warner Bros. tried to conjure, the film finally opened in theaters in 2017, and turned out to be a box-office disappointment. According to the Internet, the sequel grossed around $260 million worldwide, but needed an estimated $400 million to break even.

I honestly never believed the film could be as successful as the studio expected. Cyberpunk isn't the most popular cinematic genre, and when something like "The Matrix" breaks through, its mostly due to some "cool" factor, like acrobatic martial arts and bullet time. A commercially successful movie needs a little more than just brains. In the end, "Blade Runner" had no chance of ever becoming a billion dollar franchise.

Directed by "Sicario" and "Prisoners" helmer Denis Villeneuve, "Blade Runner 2049" picks up thirty years after the events of the original film. Things have changed dramatically after a terrorist attack orchestrated by a replicant triggered an event known as the Black Out, which erased all databases worldwide. One thing still hasn't changed, though. Blade runners are still on the job, hunting down replicants.

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The original film, based on Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", introduced replicants as bioengineered humans with a 4-year lifespan, who were used for all the hazardous activities that are way too dangerous for real humans, or just simply as slaves. There was just one problem. Since they were created as exact human replicas, it also meant that they posses human emotions, not to mention the self-preservation mechanisms that all beings come equiped with. In essence, it's a recipe for disaster, because the prospect of imminent death doesn't appeal to them much, and gives them a drive to rebel against their makers. They are also incredibly strong, which makes them very, very dangerous. They're pretty much the futuristic equivallent of the Frankenstein creature. The concept of the replicant opens up a wide array of moral and existential dillemmas, which were at the core of the original film, and are further developed in the sequel.

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The protagonist of "Blade Runner 2049" is K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant working as a blade runner for the LAPD, hunting down rogue replicants. One of his assignments leads him to the discovery of a female replicant's remains, and further forensic examination reveals that she was bearing a child, which should have been genetically impossible. Fearing the possibility of a war between humans and replicants, K's boss (Robin Wright) tasks him with tracking down the child and "retiring" him or her. On his quest he crosses paths with the Wallace Corporation, which replaced the now defunct Tyrell Corporation, the original manufacturers of the replicants. The new company's slightly psychotic CEO Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) also desires to uncover the secrets of replicant reproduction for business purposes and beyond, so he dispatches his replicant enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to closely follow K's investigation and bring the child to him. The key to the whole mystery is the first film's protagonist, former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has fallen off the grid.

K's journey is more than just a by-the-numbers untangling of a convoluted conspiracy. It's also a journey of self-discovery. He's looking for purpose and meaning in a world that doesn't have much of either. There's also an interesting mirroring of the first film's character. While Deckard was a human who began to suspect he may be a replicant, in the sequel we already know K is a replicant, but he struggles with the most human of emotions and at one point discovers that his implanted memories might actually be real. The film plays a lot with notions of reality, how we perceive it and how technology changes that perception, redefining the notion of "real".

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Gosling, who is not at his first neo-noir rodeo, leaves a lasting impression as the vulnerable replicant who yearns for something beyond his artificial origins, tormented by the nagging traces of humanity. The rest of the cast is pretty damn good, too, especially Wright as K's tough-as-nails superior officer, and Hoeks as Luv, who would feel right at home in a Terminator movie. In fact, the people working on that franchise should definitely give her a call. Ford's fans, however are in for a surprise, because even though the marketing material shows Gosling and Ford sharing top billing, he's actually in the movie only for the third act.

The notion of what is "real" in this dystopian landscape is further explored through K's virtual companion Joi (Ana de Armas). An AI hologram created by the Wallace Corporation, Joi's relationship with K is actually the film's warm, human core, as human as it can get in a world that has succumbed to technology and lost itself in a digital maze. Joi is as real as any other person because she satisfies K's emotional needs and even decides to help him in his quest. She seems self-aware and throughout the film she keeps us constantly wondering whether or not her reactions, decisions and love for K are "real", or just part of her programming. In the end, though, it doesn't matter. She's just the product of a corporation looking to ensnare its customers by creating the perfect illusion of reality. To sum it up, she is the future of "real", and a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of living a virtual life, empty and meaningless, fueled by the false promises of technology.

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The world building on display here is terrific. Scott's film was restricted to an over-populated and smoggy Los Angeles, but the sequel opens up the world of "Blade Runner" to infinite possibilities. K's investigation spans across several locations, including the ruins of San Diego and Los Angeles. The production design is delightful for anyone who appreciates intelligent sci-fi. Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins enhance the incredible designs with atmospheric, eye-popping imagery that will linger in your memory well after the film ended. Deakins finally won a well-deserved Oscar for his work here, after being nominated 14 times.

"Blade Runner 2049" also took home the Oscar for Visual Effects, and the effects are indeed fantastic. And more subtle than you'd think. Everything blends so seamlessly that it's hard to even think of what you're seeing on screen as visual effects. There's also some neat visual trickery involving Joi, and one particularly trippy virtual threesome.

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The film's major drawback is its length. In an interview, Ridley Scott said that the film's 2 and a half hours running time killed its box-office chances. In a way he's right, but it's not just that. The film's pacing is slow and its tone is brooding and gloomy. Some scenes drag on for a little too long. It's intended to generate atmosphere, and it does that well, but it's also not what I'd call mainstream-ready. The original "Blade Runner" used the same mechanisms to deploy its doom-and-gloom atmosphere, which is why I've always considered it more of an arthouse sci-fi thriller. Still, Scott somehow managed to keep a tighter grip on the pacing, resulting in a film that stayed below the 2-hour mark in all of its incarnations, including the Final Cut.

To be perfectly honest, even though I love the original to death, it's actually far from cinematic perfection. What I would pinpoint as its major fault is the overall narrative, which could have used a more fleshed out story and characters. Villeneuve's film, on the other hand, has it all. It has a more complex noir plot, exploring Scott's original themes in broader ways, and a wide array of interesting characters. Yet the 150-minute running time still feels excessive. Both films are meant to be analyzed and reflected upon, and I doubt the average multiplex visitor is looking for a 3-hour meditation on existential matters and the perils of dehumanization through technology.

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In all fairness, "Blade Runner 2049" did okay at the box-office, all things considered. The huge $150 million budget, however, was its undoing. The studio was overly optimistic about the film's financial viabiliy. Even Scott's film tanked in 1982, grossing just $27.5 million on a $28 million budget, which amounts to around $85 million today after adjusting for inflation, almost on par with the sequel's $92.1 million domestic total. Can't say I understand the studio's logic here.

"Blade Runner 2049" is cyberpunk gem, but it's also not for everyone. It's not an action film, and will disappoint anyone looking for a quick fix of furious sci-fi thrills. Villeneuve's sequel is far from being a flawless masterpiece, but it is a great film, one that fulfills the promise of the world envisioned in Ridley Scott's film.



  • The original's mix of cyberpunk and noir is intact and much more evolved
  • Long-winded but interesting plot
  • A great cast of interesting and well-acted characters
  • Deep exploration of meaningful themes
  • Excellent production values (art direction, cinematography and visual effects)

  • Excessively long running time
  • Occasional pacing issues



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