Blade Runner is a rather peculiar piece of science fiction cinema. Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has gone through so many various cuts that you could be discussing the movie with someone and be talking about practically an entirely different movie. The sci-fi noir that Scott crafted 35 years ago was much more driven by its visuals and atmosphere than anything else, which is how it has endured as a classic despite its multiple variations. Now all these years and all those different cuts later, a sequel to Scott’s sci-fi classic has emerged with Blade Runner 2049 from director Denis Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is a much more focused film than its predecessor, one that won’t have countless director’s cuts and yet retains that same sense that Ridley Scott brought to his futuristic Los Angeles way back in 1982. Perhaps it’s a bit blasphemous to say, but I believe that Blade Runner 2049 is superior to the original in many ways and a welcome sci-fi epic that eschews the generic blockbuster mentality that dominates Hollywood.
To be absolutely clear before moving forward, we in the press have been asked to be very careful about divulging spoilers for Blade Runner 2049. I assure you, all the details presented in this review will preserve the many plot points and surprises that are in store.
The replicants of the Tyrell Corporation, the Nexus 8 models, were routinely used as slave labor due to their enhanced strength, but that led to violent uprisings so these older replicants are still being hunted by Blade Runners. In 2020, there was “the Great Blackout” which decimated the archival information that predated the power outage. The Tyrell Corporation was taken over by the Wallace Corporation, and they’ve made progress in developing new replicants that don’t have the same violent bugs as their predecessors. Los Angeles Police Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, and his initial encounter with Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) unearths a mystery that could have grave implications for replicants and humans alike. This brief little summation barely covers the first five minutes of the film.
Over the course of the film, K finds himself taking his marching orders from his superior at the LAPD, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), a stern yet understanding authority figure in the life of the central character. At home, K lives a quaint life with a bit of synthesized domesticity with Joi (Ana de Armas) in what must be one of the more interesting romances to grace the screen in some time, which also features some complications when Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) enters the picture. In the search for answers at the heart of Blade Runner 2049’s mysterious plot, K crosses paths with Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the trusted assistant of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the head of the powerful Wallace Corporation. Of course, the investigation that K is spearheading will take him face to face with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner from the original film.
The screenplay for Blade Runner 2049 by Michael Green and Hampton Fancher, the latter being the screenwriter of the 1982 original, builds upon the mythology of the original film while expanding the world and adding new wrinkles to this world of man and machine in co-habitation. There’s a flavor to the dialogue that adds a level of humanistic authenticity to the film, such as human characters referring to replicants as “skinners” or “skin jobs,” derogatory terms said with casual venom. Blade Runner 2049 does feature nods to the original and a few Easter eggs here and there, but it’s by no means a film and story rooted entirely in nostalgia. Thematically, Blade Runner 2049 is wildly ambitious with big ideas on its mind about what it means to be human and the nature of creation, something that it shares with Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, also co-written by Michael Green.
Running at nearly three hours, it’s a remarkable feat that Denis Villeneuve keeps Blade Runner 2049 constantly captivating even if it’s not a film with breakneck pacing. It’s so refreshing that Villeneuve doesn’t give into modern blockbuster spectacle, opting for an atmospheric sense over massive set pieces and absurdly long action sequences. Villeneuve’s direction allows that ambitious script by Fancher and Green to breathe life into this world without the constraints of by-the-numbers action scenes. Combined with the astounding set construction and the stunning cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 is as beautiful a movie as I’ve ever seen. The ambition on display in the script and the scenery works in tandem to create a science fiction epic that stimulates the mind and the eye in equal measure.
You don’t walk out of Blade Runner 2049 with an immediate reaction. This is the kind of science fiction storytelling that you have to mull over for a little while afterwards to reach a final judgement. I think this is a rare achievement, a film that stands on its own but also stands as a worthy sequel to a genre classic. Denis Villeneuve continues to etch out his spot as one of the best filmmakers working today, and with Blade Runner 2049 the French Canadian filmmaker has pulled off his most daring feat yet. Though thematically ambitious and visually unmatched, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t the kind of crowd-pleasing blockbuster filmmaking that routinely packs the multiplexes. Instead, Blade Runner 2049 respects its audience to be patient and thoughtful as the layers of mystery are slowly shed. I firmly believe that Blade Runner 2049 is superior to Ridley Scott’s original film because it’s much more assured in what kind of movie it is and the studio is willing to stand behind its director to deliver something so incredibly rare, something the studio wasn’t exactly willing to do in 1982. Amazingly, a major studio took a chance on Blade Runner 2049 and you should take a chance and see it in all of its stunning glory.