Take note, future filmmakers: This is how you make a proper sequel.
So much in Hollywood relies on “bigger and better than the first” nowadays, but the best material to the classicist is always the original. In some rare cases, though, follow-up films can eclipse—even outshine—their predecessors.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day…
The Dark Knight…
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2…
By no means excusing sequels across the board, these films took what was good about the original and made it greater, giving us a new twist on the story without subverting our core expectations to rake in audiences. In every case mentioned above, the filmmakers knew what made the first outing so beloved, and didn’t lose sight of that when crafting the new story for “bigger and better”.
The same can be said about Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.
Visually-stunning, with the same aesthetic and feel as the 1982 classic, this new Blade Runner is still its own self-contained story; one could walk into this film without seeing the first, and not be pre-occupied with trying to piece things together. The CGI lends to the scope of this world—somewhat bigger than the Los Angeles of 2019, now—and there is only one moment that brought me out of the film (the same gripe some folks had with last December’s Rogue One). It’s the cinematography, though, that really brought me back into the universe of Blade Runner. There are still a lot of practical effects used here, and the dark, neo-noir, cyberpunk atmosphere—though shadowy—harmonizes with the darkness inside the movie theatre to keep the audience rooted throughout the epic two-and-three-quarter-hour run-time. Set design, as with the 1982 film, is detail-oriented, stimulating, and diverse—probably brimming with easter eggs for future viewings.
Some slow scenes bring the pacing down a bit, and—as with the original film—some sequences, I could’ve done without, but this is a solid sequel, overall. Like I said, it’s a self-contained story; as many other critics have said, this isn’t a story by which other filmmakers can go off and create a “Blade Runner universe”, but that is, more or less, a love story to the original film and concept. Much is preserved from the 1982 film. Nothing seems shoe-horned into the plot, or added as padding for the run-time. Bits of narration are unnecessary; as with the 1982 Director’s Cut, it’s used to emphasize the “ah-ha” moment(s), but is present far too much in this sequel. Audiences that are going to see this film don’t need that—they can follow along with the revelations, therein, just fine.
I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from the performers, outside of the lead cast. Periphery characters—of whom I’m including Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace, though his puppeteering demeanor is felt throughout the story—had an effect on me, as well. Ana de Armas (Hands of Stone, War Dogs) assumes the role of K (Gosling)’s virtual intelligence wife, Joi, whose arc feels real, human, despite his doubts about the tangibility of her feelings for him. Dave Bautista—for what little of the movie he’s in, no spoilers—has garnered a greater appreciation from me as a serious actor and as a character in this story, as well, after all was said and done. Ford and Gosling as the older and newer generation of Runner, respectively, work really well together on-screen. Gosling’s defined role as K, and Ford’s reprisal of the shrouded-in-mystery Deckard (yes, Villeneuve hints at, but doesn’t outright favor, one cut of the 1982 film over any other) offer starkly-different outlooks on the changing world presented in the film. Their match-up was meant to be, and neither’s presence on-screen blot out the other—their characters are, more or less, of equal-standing, depending on how you interpret them.
That’s another thing I admire about Villeneuve’s direction here: The film’s meaning—and ending—are still up for debate, for personal interpretation by each member of the audience. Also, and even better, this film doesn’t step on the original’s toes; the director doesn’t “canonify” one cut or another of the 1982 film. In a monologue by Leto’s Wallace, it’s proposed that it could be one thing, or something completely different, but a revolution is happening (for better or worse—again, it’s all subjective in this universe) in the relationship between Man and his Replicant creations.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: *****/. Equal doses of action and gravitas, real heart and levity, this is a Blade Runner film, through-and-through. The philosophical concepts will not go unnoticed by any seasoned watcher, and the Christian allegories don’t feel ill-placed or hammy. The artful cinematography and camerawork are a signature of Villeneuve and his team on every project, and here’s hoping that Blade Runner 2049, along with his past and future endeavors, can cement him as a modern auteur.
Next review: The Snowman (Oct. 20th)