Aggrandizing the original’s scale with breathtaking cinematography & VFX-innovation paralleling a rich Villanueve lore-expansion and performances by its Gosling/Leto/Ford-led cast, 2049 is a synthy, powerful sci-noir for cinephiles only – & worth a 35-year wait. 9.4/10
Plot Synopsis: Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Official CLC Review
After 35 years, we finally have a Blade Runner sequel. The original 1982 Blade Runner, at first misunderstood by critics/fans and a box office failure, has aged phenomenally and is now given its due recognition as one of the greatest and most sweeping sci-fi movies of All-Time. With legendary company like Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Star Wars, it can be quite a tall task to try and modernize a classic so beloved by movie fans everywhere. However, I am happy to say that Blade Runner 2049, while not quite as fresh and revolutionary as the original, is a slam dunk that might fall victim to its predecessor’s same fate of misunderstanding and appreciation with time, but is a work of art that will be appreciated when it’s all said and done. Aggrandizing the original’s scale with breathtaking cinematography & VFX-innovation paralleling a rich Villanueve lore-expansion and performances by its Gosling/Leto/Ford-led cast, 2049 is a synthy, powerful sci-noir for cinephiles only – & worth a 35-year wait.
The visual effects are absolutely breathtaking. Photographed by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (in perhaps the best work of his storied film career), 2049 takes you through vastly different scenarios and settings, from a golden orange Egypt-like desert on the quest to find Deckard to a navy blue and neon-filled rainy cityscape reminiscent of the original’s metropolis but taken to its visual/richness extreme. While some of the scenes are bleak and dreary (to make a point about the history of the world if we don’t change our ways but still head-scratchingly), most of the scenes are dazzling visually and contribute to a true cinematographic experience unrivaled by most movies today.
2049’s direction and story are layered and rich. Villanueve is certainly a no-nonsense, stick-to-the-classics type of director (no nonsense since he’s classically trained-French) and it is on full display here, not hiding behind cheap tricks like CGI, heavy action every scene, or even background music: just top-notch acting and squeezing every drop out of the script’s magic. It is refreshing and reminiscent of classic, old-world picture palaces, and one that will definitely turn off mainstream audiences who are not used to this type of detail (possibly why it’s faltering at the box office), but is made for cinemaphiles and true movie lovers only: something any critic or fan of the art form will appreciate!
The performances in Blade Runner 2049 are skillfully executed and, dare I say, even top the original in acting. Ryan Gosling is incredible as Officer K. I had my doubts about how he could play a noir-like tough guy after his filmography featuring much lighter-hearted works like La La Land, but he fits the mysterious private-eye facing serious moral dilemmas role perfectly and even better than Harrison Ford did in the original Blade Runner in my opinion (a wild proposition but one that is justified). Harrison Ford is also very good (a given) in his shortened but still important role as the father figure to K and fascinating in his own right as Wallace tries to learn about the whereabouts of him and Rachael’s child (!), bending the original’s story and taking it in an imaginative direction. However, the most shocking and brilliant performance in the film is Jared Leto as Wallace. He STEALS THE SHOW as the wickedly evil and power-hungry by complex and mysterious Wallace trying to expand humanity’s potential while also putting it in jeopardy. What makes it so surprising is that I cannot forget how badly Leto botched his interpretation of Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad: he unarguably brought shame to the world’s biggest villain role as the weird, brace-filled, overzealous “Joker” following Ledger’s All-Time great performance in The Dark Knight. It almost pisses me off to see how flawlessly he brings to life an evil figure here in Wallace, as if he even would’ve played this the slightest how he did SS’s Joker, it would’ve been legendary. Still, other projects aside and focusing here alone, Leto’s Wallace is one of the best villains I’ve seen in a long time in cinema. Incredible.
Finally, the future imagery and social commentary, as well as the ending. Villanueve’s view of the future is extremely bleak and complex, filled with symbolism it would take a critic multiple viewings to fully dissect and analyze. He makes points about consumerism and soulless slaving to companies like Sony, Man vs. Creation in technology and what can happen if that bond gets too close (K and Joi -one of the most surprising and intriguing characters in the film as an AI “girlfriend” who seems as lifelike to the audience and K as can be expected) or too far (Wallace and Replicants viewing them as meaningless slaves for the good and expansion of mankind’s conquest with his memorable quotable line: “Every civilization in human history was built on the backs of a disposable group of people”), and how overharvesting and draining of resources and ruining of the environment will make it a wasteland devoid of greenery or life except in special FX like Stelline). The final act is absolutely JAW-DROPPING as well. It is one of the best I’ve seen in modern sci-fi history in the fight below the dam where K fights Luv for Deckard’s fate with ridiculous fight choreography, scoring, and visuals. The deaths in it are shakespearean and artisically dramatic and truly meaningful, with the final shot of All-Time great tough guy combo Gosling and Ford before fading to black suggesting great things to come.
Now, while there are many more pros than cons, there are certainly some present. For one, 2049 is much harder to follow than the original Blade Runner. Even with its multiple versions and editing dilemma over its 30-year history, 1982’s Blade Runner was relatively straightforward in its base plot (not including the esoteric social commentary and future prophecies). However, 2049 can be hard to piece together in plot from the very beginning, where we are not sure exactly what is going on, and in certain cases, I had to rush to online sources to figure out what was happening in several scenes. Also, perhaps the biggest flaw in the movie and one that will sadly turn off 90% of viewers: the first act is *incredibly* slow and uneventful. I was legit shocked: the first act literally almost put me to sleep: and I have seen more movies in my 22 years than many have seen in a lifetime, including classics which are much slower. For disciplined film junkies and critics (myself included) who can sit through and stomach things like slow pacing and uneventfulness waiting for the movie to catch itself, it certainly does in a spectacular final act that would wow any viewer. Only problem with that is getting people to that point, which I would say that most people will not want to or be able to get unless they have a serious knowledge and appreciation of classic cinema and unorthodox ways of directing unseen for decades and things like Art Cinema.
Overall, aside from a mismatched first act and too-dreary atmosphere in parts, Blade Runner 2049 is a sci-fi/neo-noir triumph that takes the original’s story and expands its mythology and message in a visually spectacular way. I would not recommend it to general audiences or anyone looking for a typical blockbuster, but for any serious movie fan and cinephile, it is a new age must-see and masterpiece of modern science-fiction. Aggrandizing the original’s scale with breathtaking cinematography & VFX-innovation paralleling a rich Villanueve lore-expansion and performances by its Gosling/Leto/Ford-led cast, 2049 is a synthy, powerful sci-noir for cinephiles only – & worth a 35-year wait.
Official CLC Score: 9.4/10