If you’re into movies, into film as an art, then Blade Runner 2049 is on your list.
It’s easy to understand why. The original, Ridley Scott’s 1982 neo-noir sci-fi masterpiece, has divided critics and audiences for decades. Upon release the film was considered a failure, derided for its Weinsteinian romance, impenetrable themes and bizarre ending. Blade Runner might have ended there. After a staggering 7 versions of the film, we can actually be sure that Blade Runner divides multiple genres of film into pre- and post-Blade Runner eras. The film is one of the true greats.
Meanwhile, Dennis Villeneuve directs Blade Runner 2049, the 35 years delayed sequel. He’s been a director to watch, not because of Arrival, which while stately and beautiful was kind of shallow and tedious, but because of Enemy. Enemy is a patient, haunting character study of two Jake Gyllenhaals and their relationships with woman, with themselves, and with the giant space spiders inhabiting Toronto. Am I kidding? The themes and tones translate perfectly into the Blade Runner scape. Villeneuve’s patience, attention to detail and interest in identity themes make him a perfect fit.
A half hour into Blade Runner 2049 I exhaled relief: they did not fuck this up. Not only that, Villeneuve has the confidence and audacity to do even better: 2049 isn’t a sequel to Blade Runner, it’s a sequel to an excision of the best parts of Blade Runner. He elevates the artistic intent of the original. I want to explain more, but to do so would be to reveal a crucial element of the plot which is best preserved mysterious. I’m ecstatic to write this. I want to go see it again, right now.
That said, the film will have a place in history as a work of art, rather than as a Hollywood blockbuster. This is a slow burn, high concept examination of what it means to be alive, what consciousness really means, how memories do and do not create our reality. The visuals are jaw-dropping. Get ready for long sensuous shots, soaking in the rain and ash of a post environmental megacity. Every inch of it rusting, dripping, decomposing, and crumbling to a score based on and transcending a Vangelis core. Get ready for even longer shots of Ryan Gosling’s face soaked in Refnesque oranges and blues. From start to finish the movie is a visual feast. The apes sitting next to me were squirming in their seats for the last 45 minutes of the film’s nearly 3 hour run time.
There are a few minor problems. An uncharacteristically ordinary performance by Robin Wright (was it the script? needs a rewatch), and Jared Leto’s bizarre character never really seems to find a conclusion. These are small and forgivable flaws in an otherwise incredible production. I do have one major complaint, which contains a spoiler, and I will place it below the next paragraph. Regardless, Gosling delivers intensity while remaining the tabula rasa needed for the character’s role. This is especially great because he’s in front of the camera for so very much of the movie. Harrison Ford’s reprise of Deckard actually builds on both the legacy and performance from the first film, his finest work in years; a compelling performance which does not rely on the stupid lovable scamp hat that he wore for much of his career.
Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning, neo-noir dystopian sci-fi epic crafted with love by people with talent. Cinema isn’t just a vehicle for tits and ass and explosions and great movies are achievements of technology and talent and creativity and they can address the subconscious (and conscious!) fears of our society directly, and Blade Runner 2049 is one of those great movies. What a triumph. Final thought: the long rumored Dune remake is desperate for Villeneuve’s skilled hands.
Bless the Maker and His water, by His passage may the world be cleansed.
The one gripe (spoilers ahead): Gosling’s K is pursued/observed throughout the film by Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv. Their relationship builds carefully and in their final battle K is victorious. Why the fuck didn’t Luv get a “tears in rain” moment? It would have connected the films and tied the chases and given her character some much needed pathos. What the fuck man?