If you are not a fan of the Blade Runner mythology, have never seen the original film from 1982 or any of its subsequent versions and alternate cuts of the film (last count, there were no less than five different cuts) the Blade Runner 2049 might be lost on you. To be fair, Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner was a commercial and critical flop. Harrison Ford, riding high from the success of the Star Wars films and Raiders of the Lost Ark, dug into the role of Rick Deckard, an LAPD cop, a Blade Runner who tracks down Replicants (humanoid machines) and “retires” them with a slug. He is burnout, just wanting to disappear into the filth and grime of Los Angeles in 2019. It seems to be a just place for a “cold fish” like him; a killer of sorts. He is given one last assignment. Find and retire three replicants who have made their way back to Earth.Replicants have been outlawed since a group of them malfunctioned and slaughtered humans on an outpost.
Replicants have now been upgraded from the then top-of-the-line Nexus 6 to the newest model, the Nexus 8 by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). A young cop, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) makes a startling discovery when he arrives to arrest Sapper Morton (David Bautista). It puts the wheels into motion for a discovery that will date back to the original film’s ending involving Rick Deckard and his lover, Rachel (Sean Young). Problem is Rick Deckard has not been seen or hear from for thirty years. The evidence is hard to come by and any lead seems to come to a dead end for Officer K. Since the Wallace Corporation has since taken over the inventor of the Nexus line of replicants, the Tyrell Corporation, historical records have either been erased, burned or disintegrated over time. This will take Officer K to the wastelands of California to get answers.
As I said, those who are not fans of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 will more than likely not be interested in this material.These are not shoot-em-up, mindless science fiction films. They are thoughtfully intelligent films about humanity, finding oneself in a hellish future and memories. Memories that we hold on to and cherish. The original Blade Runner is a classic, no matter what version you like. My own personal choice is Blade Runner: The Final Cut. It is the most complete and beautiful version of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. There is not one scene or idea that goes wrong in the 1982 film. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is also an impeccable masterpiece if ever there was one.
I say this as a man who grumbled when I saw they were filming a sequel. I winced when I heard Ryan Gosling was cast as the lead. I groaned when Vangelis was not even asked about coming back to score this film the way he scored the original Blade Runner. Everything in my psyche told me to run away from this film. There is simply no way anyone could recreate the utter beauty of the original. Boy, was I wrong. Blade Runner 2049 is perfection in the same vein as Blade Runner: The Final Cut was. Dark, brooding, mysterious, dangerous but simply gorgeous to look at. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has shot one these most beautiful films I have ever seen. This film is simply one beautiful shot after another and looks more like a David Lean film than anything. Close-ups, medium shots and panoramic wide shots are crisp and clear, but this film has not lost the gritty filth of the original film, either. Los Angeles 2049 is every bit as grimy as it was in 2019 and it looks great! There are best of both worlds in Blade Runner 2049. There are also three short films on YouTube commissioned by Denis Villeneuve to set up the world of Blade Runner 2049. Two are live action and one is Anime and I recommend watching those before you venture to the theater.
Ryan Gosling is terrific as K. He is not really sure who he is or what his past might be. But he soldiers on no matter where the leads take him. He is a heroic figure, but not overblown. He is becoming as burnt out as Deckard became. His superiors are mostly phonies and bureaucrats so the less time he spends listening to them the better he feels. This is one of Ryan Gosling’s best performances. Harrison Ford does return as Rick Deckard but you won’t see him until the final act of the film but his role is no less important and Harrison delivers a small but solid performance. The supporting cast with David Bautista, Ana de Armis, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, Syliva Hoeks and Edward James Olmos provide strong performances in roles that are limited but very important to the film and its story and not one is a waste of time, space or effort.
Which brings me to the score. Originally Johan Johansson was contracted to score Blade Runner 2049. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch were then brought in to help Johansson tweak and fine-tune the score only to have Johansson leave the project altogether. I was skeptical that Hans Zimmer could control his rather jarring percussion tendencies for a film that requires the score to be reserved and sublime. Once again, I was wrong. It helps to have Benjamin Wallfisch on your side, too. The score is nothing short of amazing. My hat is off to Denis Villeneuve for his artful direction and Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original Blade Runner, as well) along with Michael Green who have delivered an amazing script that twists and turns along the way. Just when you think you have it figured out, the film veers off to another direction. Visually stunning, cerebrally fascinating and simply gorgeous to look at, Blade Runner 2049 is an epic masterpiece from start to finish. The final shot of this film with “Tears in Rain” from the original Blade Runner playing in the background left me speechless. The sheer beauty of it was incredible.
If you have not seen the original Blade Runner, I strongly suggest you do see it. The Final Cut is the one to see and then watch Blade Runner 2049, you will see what I am talking about. Those who have not seen the original will probably leave confused because there is a lot of references to the first film with storylines, phrases and terminology and characters. That is why I strongly recommend watching the first film before you see Blade Runner 2049. The filmmakers have captured all of the mood and tone of the first Blade Runner and have brilliantly recreated it to perfection for Blade Runner 2049. The original Blade Runner redefined filmmaking and many films have tried to copy its essence. Few have succeeded until now with Blade Runner 2049.
Blade Runner 2049 – ***** out of 5
Blade Runner 2049 – Rated R for language, violence, nudity and gore
Blade Runner 2049 – Runtime is 163 minutes
Blade Runner 2049 is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you. I saw the film in 3D and recommend viewing it in that same way, although the standard version will be sufficient.