#REVIEW: “BLADE RUNNER 2049”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
In college, I wrote about my frustrations with Ridley Scott and Blade Runner. The Film is considered by many to be a definitive Science Fiction masterpiece. I understand and appreciate how incredibly influential its visuals are, but it seems more interested in existential dilemmas and the question of “What makes us human?” rather than telling a coherent story. And the multiple versions of the Film – the latter of which removes the subtlety of its greatest enigma – only increases my frustration.
35 years later, we have a Sequel – Blade Runner 2049, directed by Canadian visionary Denis Villeneuve. The marketing has been cryptic and reviewers have been asked to avoid spoiling the Film’s many surprises. But after all this time, is there anyway this Sequel could match its groundbreaking Predecessor?
Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, a cop/bounty hunter tasked with “retiring” replicants in 2049 Los Angeles. When he makes a startling discovery, he goes on a journey that will lead him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for over 30 years.
Blade Runner 2049 is breathtaking in its beauty and grand visual splendour. Villeneuve, alongside legendary Cinematographer Roger Deakins, Production Designer Dennis Gassner and original Blade Runner “futurist” Syd Mead have crafted a truly stunning film that simultaneously pays homage to the original film while forging its own identity. While 2049 maintains and doubles-down on the Film Noir motif of brilliantly dark and rain-saturated visuals, Villeneuve and company expand the use of colour to include snow, grays and even some sunlight (albeit mainly in a radiation-poisoned desert). The level of detail that went into creating this dystopic vision is truly magnificent, and will go down as the most visually spectacular Film of the year – maybe even the decade.
The visual effects are even better. No, we still do not see the off-world colonies, but the effects employed here are practically revolutionary. The way one mostly CGI character interacts with the world and weather around them is extraordinary. There are other outstanding examples sprinkled throughout the Film (the innovative billboard advertisements especially), but we were in constant awe whenever this character was on-screen. As great as these effects are, I admire Villeneuve for not overusing them. They mainly only pop-up as a way of complimenting 2049’s natural, more practical mise en scène. It gives the Film an understated look, further cementing how sensational it is to watch.
The script by Michael Green and original Screenwriter Hampton Fancher tells an actual story surprisingly, while also playing into the deeper themes of existentialism, philosophy, morality and the like. They even manage to inject a little more humanity into the proceedings (mostly through delightful and emotionally-vivid breakout star Ana de Armas). 2049 takes some twists and turns, trusting you know what happened in Scott’s original Film – and then asks provocative questions that reshape your understanding of the Blade Runner mythos. While they crib from a few choice films (and recycle one actor’s overused go-to storyline), Green and Fancher’s story is inventive and rivetingly expands on its predecessor’s greatest ideas. But when the third act hits, it feels like a betrayal and more of a rushed after-thought.
Instead of continuing on K’s journey, the Third Act takes 2049 into multiple different directions. While we could write these moments off as simple red herrings, they take away from the central plot and muddy the Film’s pacing and ideals. 2049 is 163 minutes long, and the last 50 minutes seem designed primarily to ask deliberately unanswered questions and set-up a third Film we will likely not see for another 35 years. All the ideas that come before that Third Act feel wasted in comparison. For such a bold Film, it is really disappointing to see it end on a tender whimper of an ellipsis as opposed to a defiant elevator door slam.
While many of the actors are glorified exposition-spouting plot devices, there are a few highlights. de Armas is 2049’s MVP, but Sylvia Hoeks nearly steals the Film with one of the most menacing and devious performances of the year. Yet it is Gosling who carries 2049 on his shoulders, making his Blade Runner more charismatic and determined than Ford ever was. His character has a stoic demeanour, with a haunting and intense inner presence that continuously strengthens the Film around him.
Like its legendary predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is a flawed masterpiece. It is absolutely stunning to watch, the visual effects are incredible, and it packs some terrific performances. But the storyline cannot match Villeneuve’s ambitious scope, which is downright maddening. But that might have been the point all along. So while you will be left with many questions, you would be a complete fool to not find the biggest screen nearby this weekend and immerse yourself in the world of Blade Runner.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release BLADE RUNNER 2049 in theatres Friday, October 6, 2017.