In Blade Runner 2049, visionary Canadian director Denis Villeneuve manages to live up to the legacy of the iconic classic Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. As I previously cataloged, Villeneuve is in many ways the perfect director to follow in Ridley Scott’s footsteps, as much a visionary stylist whose films tend towards a kind of frigidity as Ridley Scott himself, and Blade Runner 2049 very much proves that comparison true. If Blade Runner 2049 has shortcomings, they are very much its almost icy exterior and its burdensome length; but the content of the film overwhelms any such concerns.
These slights come in the face of a film that has a plethora of aspects deserving of praise. First and foremost, Villeneuve, alongside legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, has managed to create a film that lives up to and even surpasses its predecessor as a vision of the future. Blade Runner 2049 is in the truest sense an extension of the visual look and feel, the imaginative vision of the future, created by Ridley Scott and Jordan Cronenworth. This is a fully realized world, fleshed out in the truest sense, with mind-boggling visuals that seamlessly splice advanced effects with traditional technique. On every level, this is a gorgeous film, one with cinematography and effects approaching visual candy.
It helps that the vision that Villeneuve crafts is seamlessly sculpted onto an imaginative screenplay by Blade Runner scribe Hampton Francher and noted TV and film writer Michael Green, who most recently co-wrote James Mangold’s Logan, as well as American Gods on Starz. The way the writers boldly speculate upon the future of humanity, our relation with our creations, with artificial intelligence, with our humans, is chilling, almost devastating, and yet feels all-too-real. If it’s a harsher, more depressing vision of the future than a film like Spike Jonze’s Her, which covers similar territory at times, it’s only because Blade Runner 2049 is a film with a general sense of bleakness to it.
Blade Runner 2049 is also filled with a variety of stellar performances. Ryan Gosling brings the perfect blend of moodiness and inscrutability for this role, and he proves up to the demands. This is as much a memorable performance for its moments of high emotion as for its low-key moments; moments when you expect Gosling’s character to react, and he doesn’t. Ryan Gosling’s blankness reads perfectly onto his character – the reason he worked so well as the lead of Drive is the same reason he works so well here.
Harrison Ford is at his best in ages here, reprising his role as Deckard from the original film. This is a much less ambiguous performance than the original, but it’s no less charismatic or detailed; in his old age, Harrison Ford has proven to be one of the most grizzled veterans of Hollywood film, still game for genre fare. Even when he was young, Ford had the kind of face that expressed a world-weariness that can’t be taught – now, ripened by age, Ford gives the impression of a man with no patience for the world he lives in.
The two lead performances of the film are stellar, but the film features a wide variety of memorable performances, from actors like Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, and Dave Bautista; even the smallest of roles are performed by recognizable character actors like Barkhad Abdi, David Dastmalchian, Lennie James, and Wood Harris, making this feel like a fully fleshed out world.
Villeneuve adopts the exact right tone in his depiction of, and recall of, the events of the first film, never treating it as some kind of sacred text, but still paying an appropriate level of homage to the original, appreciating and understanding it both as an ur-text for the last 35 years of science fiction, but adapting and innovating on the ideas and themes of the original. If Blade Runner 2049 suffers at all in comparison, it’s only because the original is so great. In every possible way, Villeneuve has crafted a film that lives up to the expectations of its predecessor, both in its flaws and its virtues.
I would expect nothing less from a Blade Runner sequel than a challenging, impressionistic film that has presents us with more questions than answers, that struggles to understand the meaning of humanity’s existence, and to that end I got exactly what I expected. This is surely a film that I will revisit time and again.