Blade Runner 2049 Review

“Blade Runner 2049” is not a conventional sequel. The 1982 original failed to reach commercial success despite being a sci-fi film released during the years of the original “Star Wars” trilogy and starring Harrison Ford (and coming from acclaimed “Alien” director Ridley Scott). So there was not a lot of financial incentive to revisit this dreary dystopian vision of Los Angeles 35 years later. In fact, that lack of an urgent need to succeed and have mass appeal is what gives “Blade Runner 2049” the space to find its own artistic voice and build off of the vision and ideas that made the original a cult classic.

Art direction, production design, visual effects and cinematography were the hallmarks of Scott’s “Blade Runner,” and they are far and away the crowning achievements of “Blade Runner 2049.” As “Blade Runner” did, director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario”) creates a compelling film through visuals that pull you into the story rather than simply dress it. Roger Deakins (director of photography), Dennis Gassner (production design) and the large art direction team do some of the best work a genre film like this has ever had the pleasure to know. This is not a breezy watch at 2 hours and 45 minutes, and consistently its the visuals that ignite and re-ignite our interest in what’s happening.

Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s screenplay isn’t bad, but it’s fairly low on the lengthy ladder of praiseworthy elements of this movie. Mechanically, the story operates as a mystery/thriller: modern-day Blade Runner “K” (Ryan Gosling) uncovers some secrets that lead him to what happened 30-some years before that involve missing Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), secrets of major interest to replicant creator Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).

We learn a lot more about Gosling’s character than we did the first time around with Ford’s, and his casting is perfect for his brooding, un-emotive character. Generally, the acting has a lot more to offer in “Blade Runner 2049” than in the 1982 film. The supporting cast includes memorable work from Robin Wright as K’s superior, Ana de Armas as an unusual “love interest” and Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks as the muscle for the antagonists. It also needs to be said that Ford’s supporting work in the film is some of his finest, a very unexpected achievement that the film can proudly own. Deckard’s role in the story goes beyond the perfunctory torch-passing that so many reboots and long- gestating sequels default into with their older heroes.

The thematic tone of “2049” also feels similar to the original. Dialogue occasionally spills into the overtly preachy with some characters, but the story itself, and the way the film stays true to and tries to build upon the ’80s-style dystopian vision of “Blade Runner,” allow for certain ideas to naturally emerge. The film doesn’t override the original to comply with more contemporary science fiction, but it does work in some story elements that will resonate with contemporary audiences who experience more artificial intelligence in their daily lives than anyone did in 1982.

Not every ounce of this exhaustive runtime is put to good use, but the craftsmanship of “Blade Runner 2049” makes it a rather affecting filmgoing experience, and in doing so, it honors its “source material” in a way so few of these delayed sequels do. Villeneuve makes the film unmistakably his, but with the same innovative, patient, detail-oriented spirit that Scott applied to “Blade Runner.”

In an era when audiences have become accustomed to studios pouring big dollars into blockbuster visuals because they assume these elements are what get audiences to pay up, “Blade Runner 2049” shows how that cash can be used to take us deeper into the film and not cater to our baser instincts. Sadly, what we get from “Blade Runner 2049” is not something most studios will consistently take a risk on (see “Inception”), so we just have to treasure the distinctive gifts of a film like this whenever we’re lucky enough to get one.


4/5 Stars


Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto


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