It’s been just over ten years since I saw Blade Runner: The Final Cut. On first viewing, I thought the aesthetic alone was worth praise. On the second, I learned about the consequences and actually dug into the film’s skeleton to see what I could find deep within.
Blade Runner 2049 is very similar in that regard. At first viewing, I just sat there. I thought the movie was overlong, wasted its visual identity, and tried to tell its story through blank faces with no avail. Thankfully, my second viewing has been a lot kinder.
Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years.
Blade Runner 2049, like its predecessor is a very heady film. The plot is so high concept you’d think you were in the clouds (or smoking some) while watching it. Thankfully, the characters let you strap in for this wild ride of a film in the first ten minutes. When the rollercoaster of a film stops, you are left breathless over what you just saw, even if it is your first viewing. Ryan Gosling’s “K” is virtually sleepwalking in this role, in a good way. Gosling knows exactly how to precisely evoke an emotional response from the viewer, even if he is just staring at a big hologram that likely didn’t exist when he was on set. However, when Harrison Ford’s Deckard comes back into the spotlight, he just felt off. Granted, all we know about Deckard from the original Blade Runner is that he likes to drink, get left alone, doesn’t want to shoot Replicants and that’s about it. In this, you get a slightly more nuanced performance from Ford. He’s older and he’s lost a lot since the last time we saw him. Harrison Ford has to sit in his emotions more than he did in The Force Awakens or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Those characters were well defined. Deckard isn’t, so it’s a struggle up a mountain of emotion and it’s some of his best work since.
With 2016’s Arrival, I was left lukewarm. Not because of any story decisions, but because I figured out a plot point about an hour before it got to that point. What I did take out of Arrival was a confidence in Denis Villeneuve’s vision to what a sequel to Blade Runner would look and feel like. He has an eye for visual storytelling that I’ve rarely seen this decade. Denis clearly values the story of that “perfect shot”, the shot that tells you everything you need to know without sound invading that same space. Denis was clearly a fan of the original and it shows throughout every frame.
Blade Runner 2049 isn’t an action movie. Don’t go into this movie thinking that. Shoot, these pictures should tell you that from the get go. No, Denis is more interested in telling a tale that sits in the same space with characters (new and old) and what each of their individual tales mean for the characters they interact with. I almost feel like the analogy of Blade Runner as the teenager and Blade Runner 2049 as its grandfather. The original was great, but sometimes it was moody for moody’s sake. Do we really need to see Deckard walk all the way up the stairs or do you (Ridley Scott, in this instance) just like that shot and decided to keep it in there? Even though Blade Runner 2049 is a rather long film, you don’t really feel it in the same way you do with the original.
While I mentioned Denis earlier, I also think massive credit has to go to the main man, Roger Deakins. His work here is absolutely astounding to witness. There are shots here were Deakins makes my jaw drop to the ground and drool all over. If you need a reason to buy a 4K TV with HDR, Roger Deakins has you covered.
Credit also has to go the hard work of the production design and costuming teams. From K’s trench coat, Deckard’s myriad of t-shirts, Luv’s dramatic fashion statements to the wasteland of Las Vegas and cyberpunk streets of Los Angeles, every design is absolutely exquisite.
I wish I could spill details on what specifically I liked and didn’t, but those are plot spoilers, so maybe when the next Blade Runner releases, we can talk about this one and I can’t wait to see what the future of this franchise is like.