Blade Runner 2049: A Terrific and Faithful, but Inaccessible Sequel

Donovan Maudsley -
Posted on: October 14, 2017

I’m going to be honest. I watch a lot of movies, and a lot of them have a similar feel, except for the slow burn. Lots of action, thriller and horror movies have terrific senses of forward momentum, but the tension is lost somewhere along the way. If you’re searching your memory for a good slow burn, think back to Inglourious Basterds, specifically to the scene in which Michael Fassbender gets caught impersonating a German soldier. I’ve heard that the script for this scene is 35 pages long, and it’s all dialogue. Tarantino slowly builds tension in the room, and there are multiple points where you think it will come to a head but doesn’t. It’s terrific.

The original Blade Runner is a classic example of the slow burn, tension rather than momentum, and Blade Runner 2049 matches this perfectly.

Blade Runner, loosely based on Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, tells the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) an LAPD officer tasked with tracking down renegade replicants (androids which appear human). The movie underperformed at the box office in 1982, but the sleek and stylish picture of 2019 it presented was a hit with a cult following. There have been multiple director’s cuts of the movie since then, adding in specific scenes to present themes in new lights.

Honestly I can see how people could have hated it. Rather than an uplifting view of the future Blade Runner presented a bleak, industrialized world filled with poverty and danger. The movie also left more questions unanswered than answered, including whether Deckard is a replicant himself.

Blade Runner 2049 is a truly faithful sequel. Rather than try and eclipse the original movie, 2049 provides either an enriching sequel or a thought provoking piece of standalone science fiction. The events of the movie revolve around the child of Deckard and Rachel, a replicant, and are set 30 years after the original. The LAPD and the organization which produces replicants, the Wallace Corporation, are both looking for the child, which is the first and only naturally born replicant.

Keeping with the neo-noir style of the first film the film follows Detective K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant tasked with hunting down older, renegade replicants. On a routine mission K uncovers evidence which sends him down the proverbial rabbit hole. K is joined on his journey by his electronic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), a production of the Wallace Corporation, and his commanding officer Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright). Along the way he encounters the replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the direct representative of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).

K’s journey takes us throughout futuristic Los Angeles, as well as the junk processing grounds which were once San Diego and the ruins which were once Las Vegas.  The film never falters in keeping with the aesthetic established by the original within LA, and expands this to the new locations. I was particularly taken with the Wallace Corporation building, which stuck with the same distinct lighting and colouring as the Tyrell Corporation building from the original.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch meshed perfectly and helped set the tone of the film. It was used a great deal to help build tension, either with silence or intense sound.

The cast of the film was terrific. I was surprised by the wealth of talent present. Robin Wright has been having something of a renaissance in the past few years, including roles in House of Cards and Wonder Woman. Dave Bautista makes an appearance as a replicant who gives K a run for his money. Jared Leto’s Wallace had my skin crawling during one scene. Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks were both unknown to me, but both were terrific in their roles. I thought de Armas’ performance in particular was interesting, as she doesn’t play a character with a corporeal form. Harrison Ford gives a respectable and nuanced performance in his reprise of Deckard, but isn’t on screen enough to make a lasting impression.

Ryan Gosling is the backbone of the movie though. In proper noir form he is present in probably 90% of the scenes and delivers throughout. As a replicant he is supposed to be mostly devoid of emotion, but one of the core themes is the exploration of his emotions and psyche.

The one drawback to Blade Runner 2049 is the pacing and run time. I think it is one of the better movies that you only need to watch once, as the slow and methodical pacing lets you absorb everything in time, and really think about what you’re seeing. This however draws out the run time to a whopping 2 hours and 43 minutes, which is long even by today’s standards. This movie honestly could have used an intermission, like Kubrik’s A Space Odyssey.

Overall I enjoyed Blade Runner 2049. I think that casual audiences won’t enjoy it due to its pacing and somewhat ambiguous  ending, but fans of the original film will see this as a true sequel.