Blade Runner 2049‘s production design is near flawless.
After putting himself on the map with 1979’s Alien, director Ridley Scott followed that up in 1982 with Blade Runner, which has become a cult favourite despite failing to come close to Alien‘s commercial appeal. Thirty-five years later, Scott turns over the directorial reins to Denis Villeneuve, best known for critical successes Sicario and Arrival, and asks Ryan Gosling to head an accomplished cast.
Thirty years have passed since Deckard (Harrison Ford) worked as a Blade Runner, and in that time the use of replicants was outlawed and then reinstated after Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) fixed flaws in the original Tyrell coding to ensure complete obedience. As before, older models are hunted, but now it’s newer models, such as K (Gosling), that are doing the hunting.
K’s work takes him to the protein farm of Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), who is questioned and then retired by K. In the aftermath, a box of what appears to be human remains is discovered. After being analyzed, however, it’s revealed to be from a replicant, one that had given birth. The implications are potentially world breaking, and K’s handler Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) dispatches him to hunt down and retire the offspring.
It doesn’t take long for Wallace to learn of K’s investigation, and he has Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), his replicant assistant, keep tabs on K in hopes of finding the child first — his own efforts to breed replicants, which he considers essential to human survival, having failed. As K continues to find clues, he begins to question his own role in things and where the truth may ultimately lead.
Visually, Blade Runner 2049 is impeccable. It carries the aesthetic introduced in the original and turns the dial to 11, employing mostly practical sets and effects to create a technological continuity that Scott’s Alien has completely lost with Prometheus and Covenant. Seemingly every detail is accounted for, and the cinematography and production design are brilliant. See this in 4K if at all possible.
A diverse and talented cast brings the requisite mixture of gravitas and quirkiness to the characters with Gosling shining in the lead role. Ana de Armas is great as Joi, K’s artificial love interest, and Luv proves to be a worthy antagonist. Strong performances in smaller roles, such as Bautista and Lennie James (Morgan from Walking Dead), do a lot to add depth to the story. Even Edward James Olmos gets a couple minutes to shine.
While Villeneuve makes some missteps, his reverence for the source material is obvious, and he’s able to create an interesting plot without spoiling what happened in Blade Runner — hardly an easy task, just ask J.J. Abrams or whoever made Alien 3 and killed all but one of the survivors from a far superior movie (yeah, we’re still a little bitter about that). Story and character development feel like a natural progression of the last movie, and that’s a good thing.
Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t use as much CGI as most modern sci-fi, but what’s there is excellent and blends seamlessly with the real world. It’s amazing that a film of this length doesn’t have moments when obvious green screen usage pulls you out of its world, even momentarily, but we can’t recall that happening. Also, the CGI Sean Young is spot on. Far superior to Rogue One‘s Carrie Fisher.
At more than two and a half hours, 2049 is long, really long. More than that, however, is how slowly things move. Yes, it’s nice to be given time to take in the film’s beauty, but there’s a fine line between artistic and boring, and Villeneuve straddles it too frequently. Tighter editing and a little more urgency might’ve elevated the film even further.
Chalk this up more as a disappointment, but Ford has a small role that’s wildly disproportionate from the film’s marketing in which he’s heavily featured. His performance is just fine, there’s just not enough of him for our taste.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Designing and casting for the film both get their own fairly lengthy features. While they are well done, the former is the more interesting as it deals with creating the film’s unique look, which includes some tidbits about their mindset in regards to current, real-world tech not being used (e.g., touch screens). A series of brief extras comprise Blade Runner 101 to help newcomers sort through the fiction.
Although there are no deleted scenes, a trio of short stories has been created to fill some gaps between the original film and the sequel. An anime covering the blackout referenced throughout 2049 is the longest, but the two live-action ones — one starring Leto and the other focusing on Bautista — connected better with us. They’re all well done, though, and well worth watching.
With its strong cast, interesting plot and amazing presentation, Blade Runner 2049 is very good science fiction despite legitimate issues with its duration and pacing.