Unfortunately, you cannot talk about Blade Runner 2049 without talking about the original one. You just can’t. The original movie is such a cult classic, such a landmark of cinema, that it cannot be left out of the discussion when it comes to a movie directly related to it. Now, mind you, I do not like the first movie, and I will explain in my next article why not. In the mean time… You could go out and see Blade Runner 2049 without seeing the original one, and you might even enjoy it, but you will not understand at least about one third of the movie. You just will not. To make matters worse, if you do not know the original material, chances are that you will hate this movie. This is due to the fact that when it comes to high budget sci-fi films, the general audience expects something totally different than this movie has to offer. There is a reason why the first movie is a cult classic but not a box office hit. In fact, in order to fully understand Blade Runner 2049, you not only have to watch the movie from 1982, but you would also have to see the 3 short films released online just before the movie. Now, that is a lot of homework. And that’s before you have to digest a 164 minute long movie. It is easy to see why the box office performance was so unfavorable, mirroring the same fate that the first Blade Runner encountered. Bu
t was the movie any good?
Yes, it was. But I will not put it on the same pedestal as everybody else in the film community. The story this time is actually logical, has a solid structure and some interesting twists and misdirection. I was not exactly satisfied with the final reveal, but overall, it is a massive improvement vs. the original one. Also, the characters are much more fleshed out. Ryan Gosling is bringing his signature, stoic, performance, much like in Drive and Only God Forgives. But the “less is more” approach works very well here. Joi, portrayed by Ana de Armas, however, brings some much-needed color and heart to the movie. She and Gosling have good chemistry, matching like a good steak and red wine. Also, just given the nature of the two characters, a whole lot of parallels and themes can be discovered, which is a pretty nice touch. In fact, the whole movie is heavily influenced by the book of Genesis, or the very least, many parallels can be drawn. Jared Leto brings a superb performance as Niander Wallace, the industrialist mogul on duty (since Tyrell was killed). Generally, I consider Leto to be overrated, but here he was in just the right amount of time and had the right material to work with. He is the one creating the replicants this time, to which he refers to as “angels”, and given his attitude, demeanor, words, and overall nature, him being a metaphor to God is an obvious one. And we are talking about the old testament God. His right hand, Luv, is portrayed by Sylvia Hoeks. I really hope that she will get some recognition for her work as it is truly outstanding. If de Armas is the sweet of the movie, Hoeks is the sour, which in this case is richer. The two women are the opposite of each other, yet in many ways, they are the same. Like the two faces of the same coin, or, if I choose to go on with my Genesis allegory, they are Cain and Abel but in sister form, one representing innocence and the other not so much. Besides these, there are a couple more people worth mentioning in this movie such as Dave Bautista, who continues to build up his resume as a more than serviceable actor with a short but good performance, Mackenzie Davis, who has too little time to do anything remarkable besides a one liner, and Robin Wright, who personally I detest, but the character bestowed upon her and its story was more than fitting for my taste. Last, but not least, there is Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, the only character from the original movie that is present not as a cameo, but as an actual participant in the story. It is clear, that, while paramount, he is not the main character, reflected also by his relatively short screen time. Not as short as most of the other people, but still. Ford brings a good performance, enjoyable, fitting even for the story. Yet, I could not help but wonder if he still has what it takes to be a good actor. I am asking this because his acting was the only inconsistency between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. I heard the name of Rick Deckard, the face was of Rick Deckard, but the persona on screen, that was Han Solo. That was Indi Jones. It was of a smart mouth adventurer that got old. And this is striking because back in the 80s, Ford did Empire Strikes Back in ’80, Raiders Of The Lost Ark in ’81 and Blade Runner in ’82 and managed to deliver 3 different but emblematic characters in the span of 3 years. Rick Deckard back then was something cut out of a noir detective story and Fords performance was in line with that. Nowadays, he did Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull in ’08, The Force Awakens in ’15 and Blade Runner 2049 in ’17 and in all 3 movies he basically did the same act. So, I kind of think that, sadly, Ford became a one trick pony.
Now, from a technical point of view, the movie is flawless. It is staggering how much this visual world channels the one from ’82, yet everything is updated in a very organic manner. It is clearly visible that there was significant progress made in the universe of the movie, but that progress is very specific to that universe. Everything is updated but everything is quirky enough to belong. And the cinematography… Every frame is like a painting. Roger Deakins truly outdid himself here. If for nothing else, you need to see this movie just for the sheer cinematical experience, on the biggest screen available, with the best sound system.
Personally, I will be rather upset if it would not win all the technical awards at the Oscars. Unfortunately, it will face some strong competition in the form of Dunkirk, Star Wars and War For The Planet Of The Apes. The only aspect where this movie falls short, from a technical point of view, is the soundtrack. It is good, but it is not Vangelis.
Finally, let us spend a couple of words on Dennis Villeneuve, the director. It is a well-known fact that the original Blade Runner is one of his favorite movies and that one of the reasons why he took this directorial job is so that others could not fuck this up. To his credit, Villeneuve managed to stay true to the original movie, but then again, he was rather suited for the job, given that he is predominantly a visual story teller. His personal style is very clean, intellectual, but in a cold fashion. He is more like a scientist working in a clinically sterile laboratory than a philosopher sitting next to a fireplace. What he creates is art, but his method is rather a science. In a way, his approach to film making is a perfect fit to the Blade Runner universe. But he does loose points on pacing. The movie is 164 minutes long, which is too much. He could have easily reduced about 30 minutes by cutting out Robin Wright and the whole orphanage part. Sure, those were essential for one plot device but he could have find another way to deliver that, in a more time economical fashion. However, unlike Ridley Scott, who directed the first Blade Runner, Villeneuve always makes sure that the script is good, and because of this him too, as a director, is an improvement upon the original. Yet, my final conclusion is that this movie is, of sorts, a failure. But why?
Well, to put it simply, the original Blade Runner is more than the sum of its part, but Blade Runner 2049 is not. The original movie was ahead of its time. Nothing like it was seen before. But it was released 35 years ago. Since then it inspired countless movies and whatever was new in it, by now we have seen it in many iterations, good and bad alike. Yes, Blade Runner 2049 is a good sequel. So good even, that it can stand tall as a shining exception from the rule that if an old movie is rebooted or issued a sequel to, all in the name of name recognition and cash grab, it will fail. And yes, good enough to gain the praise of the critics and the die hard fans of the original alike. But it is just a sequel, an update, a love letter. It is not a game changer. Same reason why nobody remembers 2010: The Year We Make Contact. If the name does not ring a bell, it is the sequel to Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ridley Scott did the original Blade Runner in ’82 and it was revolutionary. But just 3 years before that, he did Alien, which again is a revolutionary milestone in sci-fi movie history. Just 7 years later James Cameron does the sequel, Aliens, which is regarded just as revolutionary, has just as a “must see” status as the first movie, Alien. The difference is that Aliens is its own movie. It has a bigger scope, a different approach. It was an action movie with the aliens, not a horror. It brought something actually new, other than the improved special effects. The other famous example of a sci-fi sequel that reached iconic status on its own is Terminator 2, again by Cameron. In this case, we do speak about a straight up sequel, but there, there were only 7 years between the movies, and in a time when fewer movies were made and the technology remained roughly the same.
Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy sequel just not groundbreaking enough, not visionary enough to become iconic. That being said, this movie laid enough groundwork that would allow the studio to make a third instalment. Maybe, if they figure out how change the genre within the universe, from a detective story to something much more broader, something like a replicant exodus for example, and with an appropriately talented and ballsy director at the helm, a new, iconic Blade Runner movie would certainly be a possibility.
Final thought: Villeneuve’s original pick to play Niander Wallace was David Bowie. Sadly, he passed away before the start of the shooting. And while Leto’s performance is amazing, I cannot help but wonder, what would have Bowie did the material?