Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Dir.: Denis Villeneuve
The original Blade Runner grew to be one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, as anime series such as Ghost in the Shell, the film series The Matrix, and other urban sci-fi noir stories would not exist without it. Known for its use of world-building and its screenplay that focused on asking questions on the nature of humanity while simultaneously using androids as the main antagonists, it was a risky philosophical experiment in the guise of a sci-fi cat and mouse game. I'll be frank: I actually don't like Blade Runner. Not because I don't like sci-fi or because I don't like Ridley Scott, but because I read the Philip K. Dick novel that the film was based on shortly before my first time watching it, and I felt that as an adaptation, the film failed to competently illustrate many of the themes Dick dived in-depth with, trading most of its philosophies and character development for a simplified if stylized cat and mouse screenplay. I felt that it was pretty, but beyond its style, there was much less substance than I felt there needed to be. Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049, under the reigns of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, is an improvement on the first film in nearly every way, as it takes both themes from the original novel and some expansive developments from its predecessor to create a much more fulfilling and enriched cinematic experience.
K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner who is tasked by the L.A.P.D. with tracking down a person of interest after discovering something that could change the very fabric of society. Along the way he must interact with his police captain (Robin Wright), eccentric billionaire Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). The prospect of continuing Blade Runner in a sequel horrified a legion of superfans for the sci-fi cult classic, but luckily, the story of 2049 not only expands the intriguing world established in its predecessor, but it takes a different and equally valid take on some of the themes and questions from the original. I will say that while I do not think the screenplay is as perfect as many other critics seem to think it is, it is overall a very well-written story that baits the audience into one line of thinking only to throw that aside and introduce alternate theories at every turn. Unfortunately, I do think Villeneuve suffers a little bit from pretension here, as his direction beats audiences over the head with the themes of the screenplay almost to the point of condescension rather than incorporate them intertextually with Deakins' visuals. The film also contains a lot of fat and filler, mostly with K's romantic interest and with a whole rebel subplot that serves no purpose and does not go anywhere. Scenes of convenience abound, especially during K's arc with Deckard, and overall I felt that it floundered in the third act, but thankfully the script never dives into Syfy Original territory. Though the narrative is the film's weakest aspect, I did like it more than I disliked it. For all the acclaim this film has gotten, however, I believe that critics have been far too soft on the story's few, but major missteps.
All of the cast display excellent performances here, but Gosling's performance as K steals the show. This film could possibly be my favorite performance from the actor yet, as his performance is tastefully subtle, considering his role in the film and the events that take place within the narrative. It's not as flashy a performance as his roles in Blue Valentine or La La Land, but it still manages to captivate and enthrall. Leto and Ford are not in the film as much as they have been advertised, but their scenes do well to compliment K's journey and contextualize the revelations of the screenplay. Wright is excellent as usual, and I also really loved Ana de Armas's performance as Gosling's love interest. There's not much to complain about here, but also not too much to say, as this is a rare case where contextualizing why the performances are good could spoil the film. Just don't expect nothing short of good to great showings from pretty much everybody here.
Though Gosling and Ford are heavily advertised as the stars of the film, its real hero is Roger Deakins. Deakins is one of the best cinematic visionaries who has ever lived, as his cinematography has often been mesmerizing and mindblowing, and Blade Runner 2049 shows the Englishman at the top of his game. His visuals here are nothing short of breathtaking, as even during the film's slowest moments, he always provides a delicious visual feast, with equal helpings of visual style and substance. This is one of his greatest achievements and if he does not finally win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, I will be incredibly upset. Villenueve's direction I feel with this film was actually unfortunately a step back from his work on Arrival, which I felt was far more concise and well directed. This film is a much more challenging feat to pull off though, so I don't begrudge him for taking on this cult behemoth. Finally, the soundtrack from Hans Zimmer was kind of unfortunately disappointing. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad score, but after feeling like we could finally leave the Inception BWAAAAHMS behind us, their return in this film was less than welcome to me. Overall this film is like intercourse for your retinas, and because of this, a lot of people will forgive the lack of narrative follow-through, as it's a wonderful spectacle to behold.
Blade Runner 2049 is gonna be a lot of people's favorite film of the year. It's not only an incredible sequel to a cult classic that could arguably be considered an improvement on the original; it's also a gorgeous cinematic showpiece crafted by some of the greatest people in film at the moment. While I truly, greatly enjoyed the film, I don't believe I liked it as much as I wanted to, as I couldn't get past the overbearing condescension regarding Villeneuve's direction behind narrative developments as well as the hanging loose ends, disappointing scenes of convenience, and plot holes of the third act. It's a great film, but not a masterpiece. I highly recommend it despite its narrative flaws, whether or not you liked the original film. Villeneuve continues his hot streak with this one as he continues to show why he is so well regarded as a director in mainstream Hollywood, and this is a worthwhile addition to his filmography, as well as the people whom he worked with for this one.