In the pantheon of film entertainment, Blade Runner has earned a place among sci-fi fans as a cinematic marvel that like the book it was based off (Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“) was well ahead of its time. The 1982 theatrical version’s performance both critically and dollar wise at the time was systematically trounced with years of cult status success and revised editions that have re-interpreted director Ridley Scott’s film as a movie that has reached a very high standard due to its breakthrough audio and visual performance (for instance it places very high in my personal top 25 films). Now, after 35 years its successor Blade Runner 2049 (Warner Bros./Sony, Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Running time: 2 hours 43 minutes) hits theaters and has people asking if this movie can live up to its original’s lofty status.
The original Blade Runner film has become a staple of pop culture lore and has provided inspiration for countless films, music, television, anime, video game, and fashion properties. The unique visuals, style, and sound have helped the film reach its lofty cult status and help provide a further narrative with its approach to commercialization, industrialization, climate change and the possible future battle between humans and artificial intelligence (referred to as “replicants” in the films). When Villeneuve decided to take on the prospect of handling a sequel, he did so with the full understanding of the original film’s importance to the science fiction genre. It’s through his vision that provides some of the best moments of Blade Runner 2049, but it also provides some hiccups along the way.
LAPD agent K (played by Ryan Gosling) who serves on the force as a replicant “Blade Runner” (hunter of outdated and illegal androids) is sent to eliminate an older model (Dave Bautista) but in doing so makes a discovery that could create a larger conflict between humans and their Android counterparts. What conflicts K’s character even further is where his path takes him during the film and the implications of how important his character might be to the future of replicant species. This new revelation sends the investigation into a different angle early on than the somewhat straight forward process of the first film and rather than continue on familiar ground this narrative approach pays off with a mystery worth uncovering.
The investigation does put K in the path of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who as the individual now responsible for crafting the current replicant universe (picking up the pieces of the Tyrell Corporation from the first film) sees this important discovery made by K as the key component for evolving his android creations even more. Now K must reach out and contact retired Blade Runner Matt Deckard (Harrison Ford) to learn more about this discovery before its too late. Brilliant performances abound as Gosling’s (mainly) calm demeanor sets the tone for the film, Ford shows more emotional range than what he’s done in years and fine supporting turns by Bautista, Leto, Robin Wright, Lenny James, Ana de Armas as K’s artificial companion Joi and Sylvia Hoeks. The relative newcomer Hoeks plays character Luv, a right-hand replicant operative of Wallace who provides a brilliant foe for K in her commissioned quest to obtain this valuable evidence first without letting anything (or anyone) stand in her way.
To answer the question that many have been asking, “Should I see the original Blade Runner first?” the answer to that is that one probably should see the original as it will definitely fill in a lot of blanks for viewers if watched beforehand but even if not this film is still thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end for those looking to jump right in just be entertained. The movie and the investigation contained within heavily intertwines itself with parts of the 1982 film yet still manage in many ways to find its own identity. Villeneuve has masterfully crafted a beautiful tale and along with stunning cinematography and music from Roger Deakins and Hans Zimmer respectively captures a style that is both captivating and engrossing as the audience gets sucked deeper into the Blade Runner universe.
There are some that have balked at the long run time (clocking in at almost three hours) as an excuse of staying away from watching the film. For those maybe apprehensive for that reason, it is true the film overall would benefit even more from a shaving of scenes here and there but the movie itself at no time feels like a chore to get through as the wonderment of what is being experienced far outweighs any possible fatigue that even remotely could set in. Villeneuve’s love for the original clearly comes through in his storytelling and world-building but when reflecting on it even a 10% reduction in run time would have made this an even greater spectacle.
Recently, IGN’s Jim Vejvoda stated in a spoilercast that Blade Runner 2049 may not change the minds who think the original film was the best, but for those who appreciated the first they may find this sequel superior and may even allow fonder memories of the 1982 sci-fi classic. After thinking about it and watching the film on a personal level this past Friday it is understandable how one can see it that way. For many who view this sequel, it definitely can bring a finer appreciation of the original and may indeed spark another extended life for those who wish to see where it all began with Ridley Scott’s film.
Blade Runner 2049 proves something very difficult in today’s modern movie climate. It’s a sequel created well after the original hit theaters and a movie that no one was clamoring for yet succeeded to brilliant in its own way while still expanding expand the Blade Runner universe. Because of its technical brilliance, awe-inspiring score and compelling narrative that intertwines with the original it bases its foundation off of, this movie can hold its proverbial head high as a film achievement that compares favorably to its infamous predecessor and despite its length-related flaws is far and away the best movie experience so far of 2017.