The review for Blade Runner 2049 is extraordinarily simple: however you felt about the original Blade Runner is how you will feel about this sequel.
If you felt the original was a visually striking and staggeringly subtle and deep science fiction film that delved into the nature of humanity in the context of a brutally dystopian future, then you will feel exactly that way about the 2049 sequel.
If, on the other hand, you felt that the original looked cool while ultimately being a meandering affair that was all mood with a rickety plot that wasn’t half as profound as it thought it was, then that’s probably what you’re going to think of this one too.
The film is a straight up sequel of Blade Runner, set thirty years later, which is an incredibly ambitious thing to do in a film. Not a reboot, not an independent story set in the same world, but an honest to god sequel set thirty years later. They bring back more or less everyone of note who survived the first film in supporting roles. Not as cameos or references, but characters who belong in this world and are part of the story. It’s refreshing, because it’s the sort of storytelling that’s unnoticeable in print fiction, but is almost nonexistent in film. I think we have to credit Force Awakens for that one. And hell, Harrison Ford for getting a kick out of doing a reunion tour of sequels for all his greatest hits.
The acting is phenomenal throughout, with Ryan Gosling more than holding up his end as Deckard 2: Electric Cop Boogaloo. And one could ramble their way through the entire cast making the same point, checking off how every single actor nails their role with layers and layers of subtlety. Such as Robin Wright managing to be kind and sympathetic to Gosling’s K, even while she would kill him in a moment if he revealed to her certain truths. Or Sylvia Hoeks’ portrayal of an absolutely murderous replicant who coolly directs massacres via orbital bombardment whilst literally getting her nails done, despite tears running down her face when faced with one of her own kind dying. We are shown a universe of endless moral grays in every performance.
And the film is gorgeous. It is all at once surrealistically alien and gritty and familiar as our own downtowns at midnight. Faced with inheriting the visual style of a thirty year old film now retrospectively anachronistic, Villeneuve made the clever move of shifting to a retro-futuristic vibe. So the visuals of the old film are consistently carried over into the new one, with computers that groan as they process and displays more microfiche than LCD. There’s even an entire sequence set in a vacant post-apocalyptic Vegas that is so much an homage to New Vegas, complete with holographic lounge singers, jukeboxes of fifties music, and tripwire explosives that all it’s missing is a Pipboy.
But here’s where the rub comes in, and the reason that I led with the short hand reviews. If the acting and visuals and mood resonate with you, and you delight in empathizing with the dozen half glimpsed stories that are hinted at but never explored fully, then you will absolutely adore this movie. It makes you feel. But if you find those things to be the seasoning rather than the steak, if your heart won’t emote until your brain is given something to chew on, Blade Runner 2049 is likely to fall a bit flat for you. That’s not to say you’re going to dislike it, so much as it’s going to sit at the solid B range when every review on the Internet is telling you this is among the greatest science fiction films ever made. And if you’re in that camp, you’ll likely be checking your watch constantly as you realize that the film could have lost 45 minutes of its two hour and forty five minute run time by simply cutting the scenes of Ryan Gosling walking silently through beautiful CGI while occasionally the Inception braaaaam blares.
I fell far more into that second camp. I can appreciate how absolutely beloved this film will be to a large number of people. But I also felt that the plot itself was remarkably shallow, a set of paint-by-numbers tropes that would fall to pieces if not for the pure skill at emotional connection at play.
Dr. Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.