Sci-Fi Worth Thinking About
It’s rare for us to get big-budget event films that actually make us think. The era of the popcorn movie is in full effect, with superhero movies and Star Wars providing us with enjoyable escapism on a scale we’ve never seen before. Sure, we spend tons of time debating fan theories about Rey’s parents and pontificating on the future of the DC Extended Universe, but it’s all in service of mythology hand-wringing and action figure aestheticism.
Blade Runner 2049 is none of that. It’s a true sequel to the original film in that it’s utilizing the sci-fi genre to explore difficult and powerful themes such as love, identity, legacy, and memory. The film is challenging, not only thematically but also with its stark direction from director Denis Villeneuve and its visual splendor from director of photography Roger Deakins. This doesn’t look or feel or move like the typical fantasy fare we’ve been conditioned to lap up with little to no contemplation.
Unlike the base pleasures and easy-to-digest mythology of Star Wars, Blade Runner 2049 steeps its imagery and characters in complexity. That alone is so refreshing to see. In an age where disposable cinema and brand loyalty reign supreme, Blade Runner 2049 is about as close as we’re going to get to art cinema in the genre blockbuster arena.
True to Itself and the Original
But, Blade Runner 2049 is not some action blockbuster. It is a hard sci-fi detective drama. The filmmakers and studio didn’t reshape this to fit into the mainstream. While there are moments of action in the film, they are quick, brutal, and never solely about creating a set-piece. They inform the plot, enhance the characters, and keep the mystery engaging.
And that mystery is great. Unlike the original film, there is an enigma that unfolds for both our lead character and the audience. This makes Blade Runner 2049 work on its own merits. Though, fans of the first film will find plenty to chew over in this sequel. Elements from the original are used in provocative and profound ways, but they aren’t necessary to enjoy this movie by itself. That is how you know this is a solid sequel: it stands as its own movie.
Character, Character, Character
However, plot alone does not a good film make. We need to have characters that are compelling, flawed, relatable, and driven. Blade Runner 2049 excels in this category. I don’t want to spoil any specifics — go into this as blind as you can — but I can say that each character is interesting and powerful in their own right.
Ryan Gosling is channeling his persona from Drive in this and it works. The Driver and Officer K feel cut from the same cloth: quiet, determined men who are secretly fragile and searching for something more than excellence in their profession. Officer K’s task is hunting down replicants, but a particular case offers a new twist to his job. Harrison Ford is used in just the right amount as the returning Rick Deckard. And he’s as somber, caustically funny, and heartwarming as he should be.
But, the standouts for me are the female characters. Ana de Armas as Joi is a revelation and instantly became one of my favorite characters from either film. Sylvia Hoeks as the unrelenting Luv is putting in one of the best antagonist performances of the year, and she easily equals the iconic status of Pris from Blade Runner. Plus, casting Robin Wright as an authority figure is a smart call. Her Lt. Joshi exudes power and respect while maintaining a sympathetic core that makes her likable.
And if you’re worried about Jared Leto as industrialist Niander Wallace, he is used sparingly and in the right ways as to never feel overbearing or showy. It’s more of a supporting role than you might think, and it’s actually a fairly effective one.
Is Blade Runner 2049 Good?
It is a true sequel in tune with the mood, pacing, tone, contemplative nature, and stark visual splendor of the original. This is a genre film for grown-ups. It’s immaculately constructed, full of true wonder, and keeps you under its spell all the way to the very end. In some ways, Blade Runner 2049 even surpasses the original. I didn’t expect that at all, but I’m overjoyed that it’s true.