The fear of the sequel slump is real.
Rarely do remakes and follow-ups live up to their billings. They instead rely on the nostalgia of fans and hope for the continued efficacy of overused techniques and motifs.
“Blade Runner 2049,” to the benefit and enjoyment of all, does not fall into this trap. It picks up right where its predecessor left off, borrowing just enough from the stylistic sophistication of the original film to build rapport with overprotective fanatics of Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic. But director Denis Villeneuve is not just satisfied with merely honoring the film’s forebear.
The original “Blade Runner” from 1982 stars Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a disgruntled cop in a futuristic Los Angeles. His life drastically changes when his supervisor tasks him with his final assignment: chasing after and “retiring” replicants — bioengineered androids that provide slave labor in extraterrestrial colonies — many of which have rebelled against humans and dangerously roam the Earth.
Rather than the fast-paced, action-filled production that the plot seems to suggest, the film is pensive, emotional and aesthetically pleasing. In the neonoir vein, the original film’s experimentation with light and angles and its thoughtful representation of the human condition earned the movie a cult following that remains strong today.
Ryan Gosling takes up Deckard’s role in the latest release of the franchise and masterfully sustains the tormented and troubled persona that Ford created. Villenueve, who is best known for “Arrival,” a Best Picture nominee in 2016, picks up the story where Scott left off and takes full advantage of advances in cinema. He shows that cinematic shots and digital design are art forms of their own that can transcend plots and actors’ performances.
“Blade Runner 2049” has its own complexity, beauty and masterful performances, with story arcs and conflicts that respectfully push the original’s boundaries. Asking new questions about the meaning of humanity and the limits of life, the film manages to haunt its characters and viewers alike.
Gosling is at his best here. Seemingly stoic and collected, but always on the verge of falling apart, he appears comfortable in a serious role he has honed through previous performances in productions such as “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.”
Able to capture the torment and struggle that is so central to the original film, “Blade Runner 2049” reminds viewers what helped distinguish its precursor from typical sci-fi films.
When Gosling is joined by Ford, the two are explosive and deliver on the seemingly impossible promise of merging two timelines together without losing the essence of either. Ford delivers some of his best work in years, proving that characters solely relying on his effortless charm are a waste of talent. The effect of bringing past and present together underlines the movie’s reflections on the passage and meaning of life.
Despite the movie’s flaws, such as Jared Leto’s unfortunate overacting as the film’s villain, Niander Wallace, and its almost-three hour run time, “Blade Runner 2049” may be one of Hollywood’s best releases this year.
Watching the trailer, one might expect another action-filled blockbuster that relies on violent sensationalism and mesmerizing filmography to make up for unoriginal conflicts and poor character development. All of that speculation is thrown out the window 10 minutes into the film, when major elements of the plot that never made it to the trailer inject the story with substance, emotion and depth.
Furthermore, the film is able to deliver without making use of gratuitous violence. The perspective of the camera shifts to avoid the most violent part of a knifing, and ellipsis is used to skip past a scene of gruesome disfiguration, but all the clues are left for the audience to decipher what happened.
Pain and violence are present throughout the movie, but Villeneuve picks and chooses, making sure the proper effects are felt at different times, and letting emotional distress take precedence over physical displays of violence.
With a darkness and elegance that echoes neonoir classics like “Chinatown” and “Se7en,” “Blade Runner 2049” depicts pain and conflict through changes in ambiance and subtle developments, magnifying the torment and struggle of its protagonists and thrusting them upon a captivated audience.
Following the path paved by “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Blade Runner 2049” challenges producers and directors to create high-grossing films with star-studded casts that actually deliver and blend exciting and enthralling action sequences with provocative questions about the human condition.
It is a good sign when an already attractive trailer leaves enough mystery for moviegoers to be joyfully surprised as they watch. To honor that, filmmakers have been very careful to ask that certain developments be kept secret until the release of the movie. In respecting that wish, there is little more that can be said about this movie, except that you need to watch it.