Blade Runner 2049 [Review by Haus]
Only rarely does a sequel match, and occasionally outclass, its parent. I’ll spare you the oft-trotted-out examples dotting that particular shortlist and jump right to the punchline: Blade Runner 2049 is straight-up better than the first.
I mean it. And I’ll take on any insta-pout nerd-poseur fanboi who huffs and puffs and disagrees.
Let’s not forget that the original as released was neither particularly popular in its own day, nor especially good. (It took two much later Director’s Cuts in 1992 and 2007 to fully knead it into the cult totem it now is.) And much like it was a lot easier to make partner at a law firm back in the day, or get into Harvard or whatever, our old standards for movies weren’t always so high. If you dare, go back and watch those old classics you love. My bet? Six of ten will seem pretty darned middling today.
The original Blade Runner was a solid movie for sure, but for me, memorable mainly for its sci-noir damp-dark-neon multilingual LA — a steamy, dripping gritpool that was four parts Walled City of Kowloon with a jigger of flying cars and a dash of skyscraping corporate heraldry. Visually striking, instantly recognizable, and a marked departure from the clean-and-gleam futurescapes we so often see on screen. Beyond this, I remember it chiefly for what it lacked — namely, any explicit resolution to the decades-old stumper of whether Deckard (Harrison Ford) was himself a replicant.
Well, there’s an answer to that here, but there’s much more besides. Under Ridley Scott’s eye (he produces), director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) has, surprising nobody at all, produced a measured, long, and visually stunning masterpiece.
Blade Runner 2049 takes place thirty years after the original, when Tyrell Corporation’s synthetic human slave-labor (the aforementioned “replicants”) slinked among us. Ryan Gosling plays “K”, an LAPD officer who’s a titular Runner — meaning he hunts and kills rogue “skinjobs”. Paying a visit to a grizzled-looking Dave Bautista, Gosling happens upon a clue that threatens everything we know about the blurry line between replicants and humans. The ensuing tale unfolds smoothly, with countless lingering shots of strangely beautiful gloom in and around an ecologically-savaged urban wasteland. Visually, Villeneuve captures the spirit of the first and builds on it, expanding and quietly updating the world we all remember.
Unexpected, perhaps: Gosling is just right for this. Ana de Armas positively captivates as his digital girlfriend (a sort of supercharged Siri, in the spirit of Her), while Sylvia Hoeks gives us a new iconic enforcer. Carla Juri does an awful lot with a couple of brief scenes. Harrison Ford brings a few characteristic grimaces and brushed-nickel stubble to a timeworn reprisal of Deckard. (Aside: Jared Leto is alright here, but he’s still in the doghouse for (a) playing someone creepy again and (b) Suicide Squad.) A couple of cameos will please the faithful, but don’t sit around waiting for them. There’s too much else to see.
If I write about Blade Runner and omit mention of Vangelis, they’ll bust down the door and snatch my critic card. So here goes: I confess that about the best thing I could ever say about the much-lauded 1982 soundtrack is that it fit with the film. Different strokes, I guess, but purists will delight that Hans Zimmer has now taken up this mantle and manages to abruptly fall asleep on his keyboard in pretty much the same way. Deafening tonal blasts pepper the nearly three-hour runtime. They’re certainly moody or atmospheric or whatever, but until act three I legitimately wasn’t sure if this racket was just the 2049 equivalent of revving sportbike engines in the background. (Wow, it really is LA!) To be fair, I liked Zimmer’s foghorns at least as much as the original score.
The visual effects by comparison are flawless and dazzle darkly, and the set design has just the right level of scuffs and roughs to make the future feel imperfect and lived-in. (District 9 and Minority Report are other high achievers here.) My one quibble is that the set dressers really went overboard with the multilingual flavor on the signage. Sure, I loved the quiet intrusion of Japanese characters in the original, but here the clamor of scripts and ciphers goes a bit too far. Cultural fluidity, hai. Gratuitous polyglot smorgasbord, maybe nyet.
There’s a lot to like in this movie. It’s long, honest, and worth the ride. Villeneuve takes the story in a very new direction, keeping the dismal dystopia and layering on some modern relevance besides. As for the religious, mythological, or canonical implications of its premise — well, we can debate that for hours. I’ll just say, see this movie. Now pardon me while I go watch it again.
Haus Verdict: Mesmerizing and captivating, a near three-hour trumpet blast of moody dystopic grit that well earns its runtime. Bleak yet rich, visually marvelous, and a worthy successor to the original. See it.
Blade Runner 2049 opened Friday, October 6.
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