Early Review of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2049’
Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner film was released in 1982 and was set in 2019. The highly anticipated sequel from Denis Villeneuve is being released in 2017 and is set in 2049. So we have 35 years between films, and 30 years between story settings. Expect that to be the most complicated part of this review since we critics were mandated by the studio to follow many rules – write this, don’t write that. Such rules would normally be frowned upon (and even ignored by many), but in fact, this film does such a masterful job of paying homage to the first, while enhancing the characters and story, that we are eager for every viewer to experience it with fresh eyes and clear mind.
Obviously, the massive fan base that has grown over the years (the original was not an initial box office hit) will be filling the theatres opening weekend – even those who are ambivalent towards, or adamantly against, the idea of a sequel. The big question was whether screenwriters Hampton Fancher Michael Green would be able to create a script that would attract new viewers while honoring the original film and source Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The answer is not only a resounding yes, but it’s likely even those who usually shy away from science-fiction may find themselves thoroughly enjoying the nearly 2 hours and 43-minute run time.
The cast is deep and perfectly matched, and there are even a few surprises (no spoilers here). Ryan Gosling is fun to watch as the reserved K, an expert Blade Runner who tracks and “retires” old model replicants – the Nexus 8s have been replaced by the more-controllable Nexus 9s. An early sequence has K in combat mode against a protein farmer named Morton (played by the massive Dave Bautista). With all that is going on in these few scenes, director Villeneuve is training us to lock in and pay attention, lest we miss the key to the rest of the movie and K’s motivation for almost everything he does from this point on. Robin Wright plays K’s icy Lieutenant Joshi, who administers “baseline” tests to him after every successful mission – just to make certain he is still under her control.
Jared Leto delivers an understated and mesmerizing performance as the God-like Wallace, who not only managed to solve global hunger but also is a genetic engineer creating new beings. Somehow, this is one of Leto’s most normal roles (which makes quite a statement about his career) and yet his character is so intriguing, it could warrant a spin-off standalone film. Wallace’s trusted assistant is the ruthless bulldog misnamed Luv, played by Sylvia Hoeks. Her scene with Robin Wright is one of the best onscreen female duels we’ve seen in a while. One of the more unusual characters (and that’s saying a lot) is Joi (Ana de Armas), the artificial intelligence/hologram companion to K, whose presence is cued by Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf notes. Other support work to notice comes in brief but crucial roles by Hiam Abbas, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Barkhad Abdi, and Lennie James.
Who is not listed above? Of course, it’s Harrison Ford (as seen in the trailer), who reprises his Deckard role from the original. All these years later, he’s a grizzled recluse who doesn’t take kindly to home visitations. Mr. Ford offers up proof that he still possesses the acting ability that made him a movie star (even if his best piloting days have passed him by). It’s such a thrill to see him flash the screen presence that’s been missing for many years.
The story leans heavily on philosophical and metaphysical questions…just like every great sci-fi film. What makes us human, or better yet, is there a difference between humans and machines that can think and feel? Can memories be trusted, or can they be implanted or influenced over time? These are some of the post-movie discussion points, which are sure to also include the cutting edge cinematography and use of lighting from the always-great Roger Deakins and the production design from Dennis Gassner that somehow fits the tone, mood, and texture of both the first film and this sequel. The set pieces are stunning and sometimes indistinguishable from the visual effects – a rarity these days.
There was some unwelcome drama a couple of months ago as noted composer Johann Johannsson dropped out and was replaced with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The resulting score complements the film without mimicking the original. Ridley Scott, who directed the original Blade Runner (and its numerous versions over the years), was involved as Executive Producer. Denis Villeneuve was Oscar-nominated for directing Arrival, and he has proven himself to be a superb and dependable filmmaker with Sicario, Prisoners, and Incendies. He deserves recognition and respect for his nods to the original (Pan Am, Atari) and ability to mold a sequel that stands on its own, and in my opinion, is better than the first!