Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Running Time: 164 mins
Blade Runner 2049 is an American film and the sequel to Blade Runner. In the near future, a young blade runner finds himself on a course of self-discovery as secrets from his past lead him to encounter Rick Deckard, who has been missing for thirty years.
A sequel to one of the most heralded and legendarily complex sci-fi films of all time was always going to be hard to pull off, but it’s quite amazing to see simply how brilliant Blade Runner 2049 is. Although it may not feature the same extreme depth as its predecessor, it strides decades ahead with its exceptional visuals, all the while retaining the unmistakably eerie atmosphere of the world without making things seem too polished, ultimately making it arguably even better than the original.
There’s so much that makes Blade Runner 2049 such a striking watch, but Denis Villeneuve’s direction is undoubtedly the film’s strongest aspect. From start to finish, the film is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears, as Villeneuve crafts a fiercely complex and visually exhilarating world for the sequel’s story to play out in, meaning it’s almost impossible to blink as you witness some of the most spectacular visual effects and cinematography in sci-fi history.
Of course, the original Blade Runner is notable for how impressive and ahead-of-its time the special effects were, but what 2049 does is use modern technology and visual effects to make a far more sumptuous and elegant experience. That’s not to say that the intense grit of the original is ever lost, and Villeneuve does an exceptional job to make this sequel feel as much like the original as can possibly be, but with his incredibly confident and bold directing throughout, it makes the film a truly amazing visual experience.
Now, that doesn’t just entail some of the most impressive CGI in recent years (and believe me, there are a couple of unbelievably realistic CGI sequences), but also an extensive use of practical effects, to the extent that the gritty realism of the film often feels even stronger than the original. The enormous, dilapidated sets in particular are a real sight to see, while some of what seem like incredibly futuristic space-age images still feel grounded in some sort of reality simply because they’re made from practical effects, and that really helps to make the film and its world all the more convincing throughout.
It’s not just what the film looks like, however, because Villeneuve does an incredible job to create a powerful and memorable atmosphere that harkens back to the dark intensity of the original, but also brings another level of drama to the table. Although the film doesn’t use the original score to the same extent, and as such is never on the same level of unbelievably immersive and almost hypnotic eeriness, however there’s something about its silence, as well as the sheer bleakness of so many of its settings, and the distinct lack of dialogue (proportionally for a near-three-hour film), that still lends it that intoxicatingly unnerving vibes, and that alone can keep you hooked on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
Now, much like the original film, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t particularly fast-moving. In fact, given its very long runtime, everything appears to move even slower throughout, with long, teasing shots of characters venturing into new environments. However, Villeneuve once again uses this to his advantage, as the intensely slow nature of the film adds another level extreme intensity, and with that comes the distinctly hypnotic and almost religious atmosphere that only a Blade Runner movie can have, something that makes 164 minutes fly by in an instant, and make for a riveting watch throughout.
When it comes to the film’s story, things aren’t quite as exceptional as its unbelievable visuals, nor does it always stack up in comparison to its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not any good. For one, it proves an intriguing watch from start to finish, as we follow Ryan Gosling, playing a younger blade runner, on a quest of self-discovery as he uncovers more and more secrets about his past, and the history of his world.
Now, I can’t say that the main plot is the most unpredictable, and there are some elements that don’t really manage to shock or move you to the extent that they’re intended to, however thanks to the infectious atmosphere of the film as a whole, it still proves mighty interesting to follow for the best part of three hours, and with numerous side characters appearing and twisting the story throughout, it’s still a riveting watch.
The film’s performances are pretty strong too. Gosling is undoubtedly the stand-out of the whole film, and manages to channel his Drive/Place Beyond The Pines-esque talents perfectly into a very nuanced and quiet yet striking lead performance, able to carry a very complex and bold film on his own shoulders perfectly throughout.
Supporting players including Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks are particularly impressive too, managing to stamp a real authority on their scenes and last a leaving impression throughout the entire movie, helping to bring some real emotion as well as threat and peril to the plot, and round out Ryan Gosling’s main character even more. Harrison Ford also appears, and although he’s nowhere near as active or riveting as his turn in the original, he still manages to play to the strengths of the film’s unique atmosphere, and proves an engaing addition to the story as a whole.
On the whole, Blade Runner 2049 is a very impressive film, but it’s not entirely without its flaws. Much like its predecessor, it never really managed to move me on a deeper emotional level, and while there are some very intense emotional scenes, they’re fairly few and far between, and the rest of the film just feels a little less powerful than I feel it’s really meant to be.
What’s more is that there are some elements of the film that feel just a little too contemporary. The success of the original was its almost prophetic and biblical depiction of a future dystopia, and in keeping with that, the film’s dialogue felt very archaic, backed up by its slow, patient pacing and hypnotic score. 2049, while retaining the pacing and the score, never has the same archaic dialogue, and there are times when things occasionally feel just that little bit too casual for a film such as this, sometimes taking you out of what should be a consistently intoxicating and hypnotising watch, which was a small shame.
Overall, however, it’s fair to say that Blade Runner 2049 is a great film. Although not 100% perfect, it’s a riveting watch with strong performances and yet another uniquely unnerving yet enthralling story about future dystopia. However, its greatest strengths lie in its ability to provide a truly incredible visual experience, as Denis Villeneuve’s masterful directing leaves the film a faithful and appropriate successor to the original Blade Runner, as well as a visually exhilarating and often almost overwhelming masterpiece, and that’s why I’m giving this an 8.0.