There is a concern among (movie) critics: big movie studios have been producing, shooting and releasing more and more mediocre movies. More often than not these movies are reboots (of reboots), re-iterations, (bad) sequels or (worse) prequels of what is/was considered to have been a good movie way back when. Though some of these reboots my inner 90’s TV/movie junkie kid brain won’t complain about, I am left wondering why movie studios keep turning back to these glorious movies from the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Yes, yes aside from making money. Is it because of a lack of talent out there among (creative) writers? Is it because small independent films still don’t get as much recognition as they should and therefor less funding? Is it because the movie industry is ruled by a handful of studios who will only bet on that one safe (money making) horse? Or are we all just riding the same nostalgia wave that just won’t let us off the hook? That being said, every now and then, studios do get it right. They get it right from inception to script, from director to casting choices, from shooting to editing and when such a thing happens we get a beautiful little (blockbuster size) movie called Blade Runner 2049. Though strictly speaking a sequel to the 1982 Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and based on a Philip K. Dick novel called “Do Androids dream of electric sheep?” and set about 30 years after the story of protagonist Detective Rickard, Blade Runner 2049 brings us a new take on what is essentially the same story, set more or less in the same setting (gritty, dark and perpetually raining) with new’ish characters. All the elements that made the 1982 version a cult classic and a masterpiece in neo-noir movie making are there in Blade Runner 2049. But don’t get me wrong, Denis Villeneuve’s 2049 is not a simple carbon copy of Scott’s classic, if anything Blade Runner 2049 overtakes it, engulfs it and hugs it so tightly (without strangling it mind you) that something even more beautiful and intimate emerges. Without a shadow of a doubt, I can tell you that Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most beautifully crafted films I’ve seen in a really long time. It gut punched me (in a good way), blew me away and left me glued to my seat long after the end credits rolled by. And here’s why.
Blade Runner 2049 is set in a gritty, dark, wet and soulless futuristic version of Los Angeles. During the intro we learn that a devastating ecological disaster has left the world on the verge of a famine crisis and dependent on a new form of reliably obedient replicant slave labour engineered by a new super mega multinational in the form of ‘Wallace corporations’. Most of the real people who could afford it have left Earth for off-world settlements and it seems that the obedient new generation of replicants are left to do the dirty work. The story is set around LAPD Officer KD 6 3.7 (Ryan Gosling) who initially tracks down older model replicants that have been on the run since the replicant uprising 30 years ago. Apparently there are still quite a few older models out there warranting a police oriented Blade Runner project in 2049 to keep the fragile balance between real people and androids/replicants. After what is seemingly a straight forward capture or retire (meaning kill) scenario, in which Officer K confronts fugitive Nexus 8 model Snapper Morton (Dave Bautista) we learn that there is a greater plot at work when remains of another replicant are found buried on Snapper’s farm.
What should be a basic suspenseful cat and mouse game, if this were any other action/detective story, turns out to be a 163min mind-warp leading us through complex interpersonal emotions, existential queries on identity and memory, the right to self-agency and free will. Though very earnest topics to say the least, the viewer is always left with the right kind of heaviness largely due to the effective use of pacing of what is still a very suspenseful ride, the sparse use of dialogue, stunning visuals and an ethereal other worldly soundtrack harking back to Vangelis’ synthesizer sounds but updated by master composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish.
Blade Runner 2049 is for all intents and purposes one of the most highly awaited sequels to a cult classic if ever there was one and it does not disappoint one bit. If I had to nitpick on what I consider to be a nigh perfect film, it would be on one or two superfluous action scenes in the 3rd act that disrupt the intense cocoon of intimacy ever so slightly.
From cast to crew and sound to scene, Denis Villeneuve has shown us that big action packed blockbuster extravaganza isn’t necessarily better even if the budget allows it. Instead we are handed a beautifully quiet blast on the senses.