When Ridley Scott first revealed his intricate science fiction masterpiece in 1982, Blade Runner was largely ignored by the masses. Due to negative responses at test screenings, the film was released under heavy alterations, to the chagrin of its director and star. Despite the original cut’s deplorable modifications, Blade Runner remained a monumental achievement for cinema, inspiring generations of filmmakers to follow. 35 years later, the legacy continues. Audience turnout remains similar, but this time artistic vision has been permitted to flourish unfettered.
Complex, engrossing, visually staggering and thematically rich – Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner prevails among the most sophisticated science fiction to grace the screen. In spite of a straightforward premise, the film touched on a myriad of ideas and symbolism. Synthetic humans was a dense topic in itself, and it was propelled to the next level by exploring religious and existential themes. If that wasn’t enough, Blade Runner capped ambiguously, questioning whether Deckard himself was human, a bold artistic move you can see as influence on Inception.
Unfortunately, Blade Runner’s narrative depth and deliberate pace didn’t resonate with audiences in 1982. Cut to today, and despite the film’s respected status among film buffs, Blade Runner 2049 earned only $31 million this weekend, a flop in comparison to its $150-$190 million budget. It’s a shame, because the sequel represents a miracle of artistic triumph. In spite of the original’s virtue in self-containment, Ridley Scott and director Denis Villeneuve have succeeded at creating a film that can stand up in comparison, and can reverently expound on its predecessor.
Though Ridley Scott helmed two of the greatest science fiction films of all time, and continues to habitually court Oscar recognition, the idea of him directing a sequel to Blade Runner turns my stomach. In contrast to his many cinematic accomplishments are an equal array of misfires, and his handling of the recent Alien sequels are less than ideal. In light of this, having him serve as producer, assembling a team consisting of classic Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher, Arrival director Denis Villeneuve, and original star Harrison Ford, I can’t imagine a better crew.
The result is about as strong as you can hope for, with a sequel that doesn’t undermine the legacy of its predecessor, and thrives as a sturdy work of filmmaking in its own right. Trailing last year’s Oscar-nominated Arrival, Denis Villeneuve follows up that mammoth achievement with another bold genre entry that further solidifies his status as a towering filmmaker. His rendering of 2049’s visuals are simply astonishing: sprawling, but intimate, dazzling, yet deteriorated, Villeneuve’s update on future Los Angles is both true its source and singular in interpretation.
Set 30 years after the events of Scott’s Blade Runner, 2049 picks things up in an era where the replicant rebellions have been purged, and newer models have been successfully designed to take orders. Ryan Gosling is agent K, a replicant blade runner tasked with hunting down and “retiring” the defiant older models. During one mission, he makes a discovery: a replicant who died in childbirth. K is tasked with investigating the outcome of the child, a mission that could upend his understanding of himself, as well as society’s treatment of replicants at large.
Blazing territory not covered in Philip K. Dick’s novel, screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green stay true to Blade Runner’s nature as a noir film and simultaneously offer potent new narrative ground with a fresh investigative storyline. As agent K questions his origins and his status as a replicant, the film effectively mirrors its predecessor without detracting from it. Though the sequel lacks the thematic complexity of the original, the concept of replicants achieving procreation opens new doors and further expands Blade Runner’s mythology.
If Scott impressed you with his ability to humanize artificial beings, Villeneuve’s ability to connect his audience with a mainly inhuman cast of characters will floor you in comparison. Ryan Gosling lends his dependable acting prowess as a cold, methodical, yet conflicted and compassionate agent K. Not only is 2049’s main character posited as a bio-engineered human, but he resides with a holographic computer wife. Ana de Armas stuns as K’s bride, Joi, in a role that is difficult to back at first, then progresses to unforeseeably tear at your heartstrings.
My greatest concern going into this film was that it would lay the ambiguity to rest as to whether or not Deckard was a replicant. I am relieved to report that this is not the case, and one of the greatest strengths of Scott’s original film has not been tampered with. Harrison Ford makes a welcome return, bringing his reliable gruffness, only ripened with age. Though it’s clear the sequel boasts the heft to prosper on its own, this doesn’t mean his eventual reemergence isn’t met without fanfare. His action heyday may be long past, but Ford can still pack a punch.
There is much more to be praised, but much of it would be hitting spoiler territory. Jared Leto excels as a chilling, Tyrell-inspired villain. Going as far as simulating blindness to immerse himself into the role, you just might forgive his take on the Joker. In addition, Hans Zimmer collaborates with Benjamin Wallfisch in a restrained synth soundtrack that alternates between understated poise and thunderous ferocity. The film can’t compete with the original, but rare is a film that can. 2049 is a phenomenal sequel, and reigns among today’s most extraordinary sci-fi.
BLADE RUNNER 2049
Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Pictures, Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment and Thunderbird Entertainment.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, based on characters from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto.
Released October 6, 2017.
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