Blade Runner 2049 (aka Blade Runner 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The return to Blade Runner is more of a reprisal of the original film’s heavy themes and surreal tones than the material elements. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) wouldn’t waste our time. In a modern film world where movie retreads have banked entirely on nostalgia to carry them, Blade Runner 2049 is a film that stands strong on its own while still being a pleasing continuation of the cyberpunk film that inspired a new wave of sci-fi.
Taking place thirty years after the events of the previous film, Los Angeles is still a dirty and neon metropolis of towering skyscrapers, glowing ads, filthy streets and gloomy weather. The Tyrell Corporation has been replaced by sinister Wallace (Jared Leto), a more philosophical mind inspired more by godhood than commerce. He vows to create the perfect Replicants that will not disobey and will not kill. More human than human was Tyrell’s motto, but now it seems to be a religion. Removing the obvious tell of iris reflections and the crippling four-year lifespan, Replicants are now the most sound of servants. A few have even been used as the police of Blade Runner, with Replicants hunting down Replicants. A fair fight, I suppose.
One such enforcing Blade Runner Replicant is K (Ryan Gosling), an officer subject to daily screenings to make sure he’s okay in the head. He leads a life of limited emotions, a restricted benefit of Replicant workers that he confides in a hologram program. But then he starts uncovering some hidden memories and secrets about his race of synthetic beings. Of course, this plays into the theme of what it truly means to be human or have a soul, but Villeneuve never makes the story so simple in both its structure or dialogue. A lesser film would have had to include a line where K asks what it means to be human. He’s smart enough to know it means to act human but needs to search internally for that sensation which sparks inside him.
Villeneuve’s vision of Blade Runner is faithful to the spirit of the original, but expansive as well. Not only does he deliver on the garish qualities of a depressingly vast urban microcosm, but he expands past the city limits of L.A. to explore more of Blade Runner somber world. K’s investigation will take him to a desolate farmland of maggots, a junkyard of slave labor and an abandoned casino of a radioactive city. Despite leaving L.A., we never leave the world. I never as though this was an aspect that was better left unexplored. If anything, I wanted K to travel further into the outreaches of this future. The tech has improved, but only slightly. The Spinner police cars have a more angular design but still look like spinners. Investigation tools can dig deeper, but still feel rusty and clunky with their whirring and sputtering. And, of course, the guns still fire like real guns.
And now a tale of how the sausage is made. When I was at the press screening, we were presented with a message from Villeneuve about not spoiling any of the movies in our early reviews. When the film ended, we were given a specific list of what we were not supposed to spoil. Though I’m pretty much in the clear by the time this review has been posted, I’ll refrain from spoiling anymore about the film from here. This is more out of respect for the film than appeasing Villeneuve’s wishes. It’s not even because all the plot twists and characters reveal are all that shocking or important to the entertainment of the film. This is a movie that deserves to be seen cold, despite the requirement of having seen the original film. It needs to wash over the viewer to fully appreciate its atmosphere of a large, meditative and intricate movie that truly felt like a movie experience as opposed to the typical track we’ve become used to.
I knew Denis wouldn’t disappoint as he hasn’t failed me with any of his previous pictures. I was not prepared for how much of a masterpiece he would deliver. Where other reboots and sequels only find references, cameos and merchandising, Blade Runner 2049 finds that sublime sensation of transcendence that the original film delivered so well and amplifies it to a new level of astonishing filmmaking.