Blade Runner 2049 (9 out of 10)
“I always told you, ‘You’re special.’ Your history isn't over yet. There's still a page left.”
There really is no such thing as a “perfect” film, in my humble opinion. Every film, even the best of the best, have some flaws in them, either technically, narratively, with the acting, editing, etc. There’s always some way that a film could’ve been corrected. Then again, when we talk about great art, we don’t necessarily call it perfect; we call great art “masterpieces.” A masterpiece is something that transcends flaws, goes above and beyond any kinks in its armor. It grasps the viewer on a level beyond mere technical prowess and narrative fortitude. Masterpieces belong in a class beyond perfection, because they reach inside the audience in a special, transformative way. When Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner” debuted in 1982 (itself an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), it was considered far from a masterpiece, or even just a good film. It was met with lukewarm reviews and poor box office receipts, but over the years following its release, the film became a bonafide cult classic, spawning multiple cuts that improved on the narrative and high-end transfer that brought the already amazing visuals to even greater heights. Today, Blade Runner is considered the zenith of masterful science fiction filmmaking. It became something greater than greatness itself. Despite any flaws it had, those were lost, like tears in the rain, beneath its story, its thematic layers and universal, philosophical questions, and its characters that struggle with issues as relevant today as ever before.
When “Blade Runner 2049” was announced, many scratched their heads at the idea of making a sequel to a film that didn’t need one. How do you follow up a masterpiece that never needed a follow up in the first place? Disappointment seemed to be inevitable, if not outright hatred. It seemed like a shameless cash-grab to ride the coattails of its predecessor. But when I found out it was to be directed by Denis Villeneuve (director of stellar films such as Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival), I knew we would be in for a treat. Villeneuve has quickly become one of my favorite directors working today, and I was sure he wouldn’t have taken on this immense project if there wasn’t a great story there he wanted to tell.
Thankfully, Villeneuve and company deliver a film that exceeded all my expectations and then some. With a simple but compelling and moving story, strong, memorable characters, astounding visuals, and rich themes with many layers for the filmophile to sink their teeth into, Blade Runner 2049 delivers nothing less than a grand moviegoing experience. It’s a film that stands firmly on its own, without relying too heavily on its predecessor, except for a few very effective callbacks. The visuals and sound effects alone are stunning to behold, especially in the IMAX screening I went to. There’s not a single wasted shot in the whole film. Every scene, every frame is done with impressive and meticulous attention to detail. You become immediately transported into this world and don’t leave it until the credits start to role. The soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is a masterwork on its own, following boldly in Vangelis’ footsteps from the original but never sounding like it copies his work. The acting is stellar all-around, particularly Ana de Armas as Joi, Officer K’s (Ryan Gosling) holographic girlfriend. Every scene between them moved me on multiple levels, as de Armas makes her non-living, digital character feel as alive and human as any flesh and blood person. Another standout is Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a second-in-command of sorts to Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the creator of the next-generation of replicants. Both chilling and compelling, she brings a much needed edge and brutality to her antagonist character. Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard, in a somewhat brief but narratively important appearance. Gosling is fine as the primary protagonist trying to uncover a mystery that could shake mankind.
The only very minor issue I had with the film is that it felt just a little too long, and maybe could have used just a bit more time in the editing room. Honestly, though, I was so immersed in the world that I didn’t even care. The length of the film is easily forgiven and forgotten beneath all of its sublime and fantastic qualities. Blade Runner 2049 started off its development being a film that nobody wanted, but ends up being a film everyone needs to see. Immediately supplanting itself as one of the best films of the year, one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, and a modern-day masterpiece, I give Blade Runner 2049 a 9 out of 10.
- Ryan Zeid