I have no affinity towards the original Blade Runner. I understand the story and the Replicant/Human questions posed at the end regarding Harrison Ford’s character, but I decided to go into Blade Runner 2049 without watching the original again, to see how the modern version stood up on its own.
Straight away, you can tell this film is beautifully crafted. Every shot dripping with the sci-fi noir style the original film is so celebrated for. Everything looks futuristic, but used, and this aesthetic creates some truly gorgeous shots throughout the entire movie. Every set, costume and light are perfectly placed, meaning this film should be watched on as big and as high-resolution a screen as you can. Accompanying the opening shots, after the text has explained the current timeline and the Human/Replicant relationship, we get the first hit of the powerful score this film has. Hans Zimmer’s touch is distinctive, and its perfect for this style of movie.
There is a word I have used a lot already, style. Blade Runner is incredibly stylistic, at times leaving the beautiful shots and sets on-screen for 10-15 seconds uninterrupted for you to soak it in. This choice of editing makes the film feel very slow, very deliberate. It’s a story about a replicant, Ryan Gosling, who is carrying out his duty as a “Blade Runner”, investigating the cases of old replicants who need to be shut down. We follow every step of this investigation, being shown rather than being explained to. This would normally make the film a little harder to follow, but I found it relatively easy seeing as the film isn’t subtle with how it handles the clues dropped along the way. For me the slow pace is a hinderance here. In moments I felt there should have been an impactful reveal, the slow unveiling of the secret meant the effect was lost on me, allowing me to already be piecing together the next step of the story, or just thinking about something else entirely.
The film reminded me in some ways of the first time I sat down to watch The Godfather. Both films are clearly brilliant examples of what filmmaking can be, but compared to most modern cinema, they are painstakingly slow. This is as much a criticism of these films as it is of modern cinema, and how today’s audiences are accustomed to the quickly edited, fast pace modern movies with less time for the film to slowly stroll from point A to B. If you can appreciate the slow canter the film plods along at, the story keeps you invested all the way til the end, and doesn’t necessarily answer all of the questions, in line with the 1982 film.
Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford lead the show, and both are genuinely brilliant. Gosling’s journey throughout the story changes the character’s perspective on everything, and seeing him try to process the events unfolding makes for compelling viewing. Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard from Blade Runner, giving a great performance even in the relatively short time he is on-screen for. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks play the antagonist roles, and whilst the former is solid and clearly at home playing an eccentric genius, the latter really shines in her role. Often butting heads with Gosling and his superior (played by Robin Wright), she is both intimidating and at times sympathetic.
Director Denis Villenueve is responsible for two of my favourite movies in recent years, the tense Sicario and the intriguing Arrival. His take on this franchise he attempts to show again he is the master of tension building and enticing the audience with threads of story. For the most part he succeeds, but this film felt slower, and dragged a little more than those two previous efforts.
Blade Runner 2049 is an acquired taste. Lovers of the previous film will likely adore this, and haters are inevitably going to hate. For me, sitting on the fence as I was, it sits somewhere between director Villenueve’s last two efforts. If you have a spare 3 hours and want something to really engage with, Blade Runner 2049 might be for you, but as I have said for all of Villenueve’s films, be prepared for what you’re getting into. In a world where big budgets mean plenty of action, quips and stunts, Blade Runner 2049 is a big budget film of a different kind.
Good: Excellent filmmaking on show, everything is truly top-notch. Performances, cinematography, set design all excellent.
Bad: Slow pace grinds to a halt at times, and I found the story to be a little bit predictable at times.
8/10 – It’ll be tough to replicate this…
The last Villeneuve movie I reviewed I promised to get better on the puns, I am sorry for failing you all.