If you’re a fan of Ridley Scott’s cult sci-fi epic Blade Runner and you haven’t yet gotten around to seeing Denis Villeneuve’s masterful followup, you owe it to yourself to do so immediately. If you’re entirely unfamiliar with either film, the same advice applies. Hell, even if you hate sci-fi in general and the 1982 Blade Runner in particular, I still think you should give this one a shot. Blade Runner 2049 has pulled off something that I heretofore wouldn’t have believed possible — a sequel thirty-five years in the making that manages to justify its own existence and garners my unequivocal recommendation despite a nearly three hour running time. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that it’s better than the original.
I’m an avid fan of Scott’s film, so that’s a bold statement — but one that I think is borne out by Villeneuve’s stunning accomplishments here. As a visual stylist, Villeneuve has Scott beat by a wide margin. While that may not come as a surprise to fans of the director’s previous works, what left me somewhat shocked was just how much Blade Runner’s aesthetic suffers in comparison to that of 2049. Whereas Scott’s future was a prototypical neo-noir hellscape of darkened, perpetually rain-soaked urban environs, Villeneuve opens up the world and plays with contrast in a way that Scott either couldn’t or wouldn’t. There are plenty of callbacks to the original film’s set design, but we also get a glimpse of arid deserts and rural farms — as well as a few truly inspired visual flourishes, including a series of rooms lit solely through rippling water that cinematographer Roger Deakins renders with impressive mastery.
What’s even more impressive is that Villeneuve, along with screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, develop a narrative basis for most of these poetic touches. Plot synopsis would do little to enhance the experience of this film, so there’s not much point in wasting words on a summary that could potentially spoil some significant narrative turns (something the studio has actively prohibited anyway). The first film wasn’t exactly a character piece, and 2049 doesn’t fall too far from that particular tree — but then, The Big Sleep didn’t get too hung up on story beats either. It should suffice to say that some questions from the first film will be answered, while new ones will be raised.
Yes, Harrison Ford is back as blade runner Deckard, although his presence is far more limited than the ads would suggest. Ryan Gosling has finally found the first role since Drive that so perfectly suits his comatose stare, and Jared Leto continues what appears to be a career strategy based on being as consistently creepy as possible. But performance isn’t what this film is about, and while the story is more cogent than the prior film and aptly honors the philosophical underpinnings of its Philip K. Dick source material, that’s not really the point either — this is spectacle, pure and simple. It deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
So Blade Runner 2049 is an exceptional film with a blockbuster budget and marketing push to match — and it’s already failed miserably at the box office. While the original Blade Runner was also a flop when it premiered, 1982 was a simpler time cinematically speaking, and the film was eventually allowed to build a following without being written off prematurely. Enjoy your uninspired retreads, because the studio execs will learn their lessons well and double down on churning out thoughtless crap instead of investing in artistry like this again. This is why we can’t have nice things. Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language. Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Strand of Waynesville.