BLADE RUNNER 2049 review by Mark Walters – Ryan Gosling & Harrison Ford deliver a Sci-Fi sequel

BLADE RUNNER 2049 review by Mark Walters – Ryan Gosling & Harrison Ford deliver a Sci-Fi sequel

When Ridley Scott released the first BLADE RUNNER in 1982, featuring Harrison Ford as a film noir detective in a futuristic Los Angeles inhabited by Asian/American fused buildings, rainy and dark crime-ridden streets, and unhinged synthetic people in hiding, moviegoing audiences didn’t know quite what to make of it. The production was a visual and audible feast, sporting visionary cityscapes and an immersive score by Vangelis. The script was a somewhat basic detective story, in which the lead character becomes smitten with a target, and by the end the hunter becomes the hunted and is clearly outmatched. While it wasn’t a box office hit, the film found a serious second life on the cable and home video market, turning into a beloved Sci-Fi classic in the eyes of fans… you could safely say a LOT more people saw the movie on home video than ever considered seeing it in its initial theatrical run. Now, 35 years after the original was released, we’re finally getting a sequel in BLADE RUNNER 2049. This time Ryan Gosling takes the lead, with Harrison Ford returning to the role (and universe) he made famous.

Before I begin the review, I want to stress something to anyone thinking about seeing the new sequel… if you have never seen the original BLADE RUNNER, in any format, you need to change that first. There is so much in the new movie that relates to the previous film, you absolutely will be lost if you’re going into this without that experience. And if you haven’t seen the original in a long time, you might want to re-watch it. I cannot stress this advice enough, you will regret it if you don’t heed this warning, or at the very least it will significantly diminish the viewing experience of the new film. Seriously.

After the events of the first film, the Tyrell Corporation was phased out, and all remaining Replicants were hunted down and brought in. Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) ushered in a new type of Replicant, designed to be obedient and therefore lawful, but he’s covering up a big time secret that could change the game forever. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is the modern day equivalent of a Blade Runner, reporting to Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) and tasked with tracking down the few old school Replicants still in hiding. After his latest mission pops up some unexpected clues, K begins asking some serious questions, which makes certain folks pretty uncomfortable. These riddles will eventually lead him to the man who preceded him all those years ago, and a shocking truth that will change them both forever.

If that synopsis seems vague, it’s because the studio reps told us (at the request of director Denis Villeneuve) that we’re not to reveal some of the more interesting talking points, including items that are revealed within the first 10 minutes of the story… but hey, we want to respect their wishes, and this is a film you should go into as spoiler-free as possible. That said, one thing I will reveal that I think many folks will be a little put off by – Harrison Ford, who is prominently featured in all advertising for this film and all commercials and trailers, does not show up until one hour and 50 minutes into the film… I’m not kidding, I timed it. This means you have almost two hours of Ryan Gosling carrying the somewhat slow-moving story before seeing the two men interact. I have to imagine this will be a point of frustration for moviegoers expecting the original film’s star to have a bigger involvement. BLADE RUNNER 2049 also runs a lengthy two hours and 43 minutes long, and at times really feels every bit of that run time. That’s not to say it isn’t good, it’s quite an impressive film, easily one of the better cinematic experiences of the year. Not unlike Ridley Scott’s 1982 effort, Villeneuve delivers a visual spectacle that is incredibly immersive and engaging, complimented by Roger Deakins as Director of Photography giving every shot a museum-quality look and feel.

Ryan Gosling feels like an appropriate modern day equivalent to what Ford played as Deckard all those years ago, battling his own demons and living a flawed life in between the hectic moments his job presents. Gosling has become Hollywood’s strong silent type in recent years, and this role really takes advantage of that, though sometimes you hope for just a tad more emotion to liven things up. Ana de Armas is rather stunning and effective as the object of K’s affection, at times delivering an almost angelic character that’s one of the most interesting aspects of the film. One of my few complaints is that her background is never really explored the way we hope it might be, but some of that ambiguity serves the story well. Jared Leto is interesting as Niander Wallace, the Dr. Frankenstein of the tale who may or may not have the best of intentions – we posted a great short film that explores a little bit of his background, and I’d suggest you watch that if you haven’t already. One of the standout performances in the production comes from Sylvia Hoeks, who plays Luv, Wallace’s personal assistant who is much more than she appears to be. Imagine the character of Rachel from the first film turned into a secret terminator, it’s really creepy and effective. The rest of the cast is peppered with great folks who get very brief screen time, like Dave Bautista as a first generation Replicant in hiding, Barkhad Abdi as a street tech specialist, and the great Lennie James as the leader of an underground work force… the latter could have been much more utilized, but he’s still a welcome addition to the cast. Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi has a few good moments, but like many of the supporting character could have used a bit more development.

And then there’s Ford, returning to the role of Deckard, though for some reason looking like he rolled out of bed and showed up on set with whatever he had on. As a huge Harrison Ford fan, and a huge fan of the original film, I was a little sad to see Deckard reduced to just (what felt like) Ford being Ford as he is in almost every other film today. There’s not a lot of the vintage Deckard on display here, so much so that one has to wonder why they would go out of their way to have him in the movie at all if he’s not going to aggressively play the part in an even somewhat similar fashion. There’s one scene in particular in which he has a dialogue with Jared Leto, and things get pretty emotional, and it’s probably one of the better and more moving performances to come from Ford in recent years… but it felt like there needed to be more there, like they could have cut down some of that two hours of Gosling to beef up the last 50 minutes featuring Ford. Safe to say if you’re going to this film just to revisit Deckard, you will likely be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, this still evokes the style of a BLADE RUNNER movie quite well, but I just didn’t feel like I was watching the Deckard I remembered, not in the way it’s done here. Thankfully the score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer also feels quite familiar and appropriate, giving the final product a near perfect sound in addition to its presentation.

As a companion piece with the original film, BLADE RUNNER 2049 does capture the same style and spirit of its predecessor, but falls short of being everything you’d want from a true sequel. At times it feels like a retread of the same story, but is much more layered and complex by design. There are some interesting twists and turns that will keep you guessing, and every time you think you’ve got it figured out they’ll throw another curve ball your way. The script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green is ambitious and impressive without every getting too convoluted, I just wanted a little more of certain aspects and a little less of others. The lack of back story on certain characters hurts things a bit, but considering the running time, I have to wonder if some of that was simply cut for time. One thing is certain, Denis Villeneuve should be greatly commended as director, as thanks to its overall presentation this is easily one of the most impressive Science Fiction entries of all time. Some critics have heralded this as being even better than the original. While I love the first movie, its narrative is not by any means flawless, so the simple fact that 2049 is more expansive allows it to surpass the scope of the previous screenplay by default. But is it truly a better movie? Hard to say, and time will tell, but man oh man does it look great… just make sure you pee first.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 opens in IMAX and select theaters October 6, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community’s leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.