One would be rightfully wary of an entry in a film franchise coming decades after the original (one needs to look no further than the Phantom Menace for proof of that). When that film is a cult classic, as is the case for Blade Runner, fan skepticism goes off the charts. Is this just a cash grab, playing on nostalgia to make a few bucks? Or is there still a worthwhile story worth telling here? And if there is, does it even stand a chance as being as good as its predecessor? Or if the film ends up just average, why even bother with it after so much time has passed? These are all questions that entered my mind when I first heard about, and saw the initial trailer for Blade Runner 2049. I am not the world’s biggest fan of the original, despite knowing how important it is. After sitting through all two hours and forty minutes of 2049, I witnessed a film that not only expands upon the Blade Runner universe in an appropriate and satisfying way, but also a film that is better than it’s predecessor in almost every way.
Let’s get this out of the way now, Blade Runner 2049 is not a film for everyone. Johnny Action Movie isn’t going to like this. It’s slow, it’s cerebral, and it demands your attention. None of these are bad things, but if you’re looking for a sci-fi shoot em up set in the Blade Runner universe, none of that exists here. This is not a film for general audiences, and I have to applaud Warner Bros. for taking such a risk by putting the talent and large budget behind this that it deserves. It’s a move that I’m sure will get more than one Trekkie (but not studio executive) pondering what could have been if the new Star Trek was rebooted in a similar manner.
Ryan Gosling plays a Blade Runner who stumbles upon a miracle: a the remains of a replicant that has given birth. As such a revelation would turn the world into chaos, it is a race against time (and Jared Leto’s Wallace Company, who is now producing replicants as slaves) to find the child of this miracle birth. Lesser films would use that an excuse to let the guns start blazing. Fortunately for us, 2049 is not that film. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who penned the original, along with partner Michael Green, know what to do this franchise. Having a pace slower than the already plodding original is a huge box office risk these days, but it pays off for those of us who are looking for a memorable experience and not just an explosion every ten minutes. Even at a much longer run time, this held my attention a lot better than the original.
Playing off the script beautifully are director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) and the masterful cinematography of Roger Deakins. They capture the look and feel of the Blade Runner world perfectly, and barring something coming out of left field, Deakins should be the frontrunner for his first, extremely deserved, Oscar. Some may think that the scenes linger on too long, and that a shorter, tighter movie would play better to general audiences. Possibly, but this is a film where the artists are given free reign to do what they want, the general public be damned. You remain in these locations, on these shots, for a reason. By the end of the film you truly feel like you are an inhabitant of this dystopian world, that you know these characters intimately, and that would not have been possible to such a degree with the film cut down to a more lean running time. 2049 challenges you to give your implicit trust in the artists behind it and they succeed in a way that is rarely seen in big budget films anymore.
Though, for all the time we spend in this world, there are a few aspects of it that I do wish we would have seen more of. The replicant resistance was an interesting idea that got just enough screen time to serve its purpose, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more of it. There is also a large theme of love in 2049, what it means, can one actually love something that is programmed to love you back? The themes at play here will have you thinking about them for days.
Blade Runner 2049 expands on the lore of the world so much that I wanted more of it. There wasn’t enough time in this already almost three hour movie to adequately give us all the interesting elements of the world. When you can look back at something and want more, that’s when you know you’ve got a winner.