****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****
Estimated Reading Time: 6:10:21
My Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation: SEE IT. A good but not great film worth seeing in the theatre for the beautiful cinematography alone.
Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is the sequel to Ridley Scott's iconic 1982 film Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford. Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling as K, with Ford reprising his role as Sam Deckard along with supporting turns from Robin Wright, Jared Leto and Ana de Armas.
I was very excited to see Blade Runner 2049 because I am such a tremendous fan of Ridley Scott's original Blade Runner. That film, which is required viewing in order to fully understand and appreciate Blade Runner 2049, was a thoroughly unique, neo-noir, apocalyptic take on the science fiction genre which explored what it means to be human, a god and everything in between. Blade Runner 2049 is a good, but not great, sequel to the Blade Runner.
What makes Blade Runner 2049 worth seeing, and worth the effort of seeing in the theatre in particular, is that it is one of the most cinematically gorgeous films you will ever witness. Ryan Gosling gets top billing for the movie, but cinematographer Roger Deakins is undoubtedly the star of this film. Deakins and director Denis Villeneuve worked together on Sicario in 2015 to spectacular effect, which earned Deakins the much coveted Mickey ©® Award for Best Cinematography.
Each of Deakins' shots in Blade Runner 2049 are like masterpieces depicted on a futuristic canvas. Deakins paints with a lush and vibrant palette that is striking to behold and alone is well worth the price of admission. His deft use of shadow and moving light is exquisite and effectively reveals the deeper sub-text of the narrative. Deakins is one of the preeminent cinematographers of his day and Blade Runner 2049 will no doubt garner him another much deserved Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. This expected nomination will be his fourteenth nomination and thus far, as incredible as it is to believe, he has never won the award.
Director Denis Villeneuve does admirable work on Blade Runner 2049 but he ultimately comes up short in making the most of the complex philosophy, theology and psychology that made the original film so fascinating. The running time of the film is two hours and 45 minutes, which makes it a long movie. I am one of those weird people who actually really likes long movies, but with such a long running time you would expect Villeneuve to thoroughly flesh out all of the intricacies involved in the story, instead he squanders much of his time and in the second half of the film the story loses momentum. The Blade Runner mythology is so vast and so philosophically rich that Villeneuve's cinematic meandering feels like a sin when he loses narrative specificity and falls onto the easy path of generic storytelling.
For a film that has so much time to use it frustrates by failing to give adequate purpose and meaning to the character's on-screen actions. The story begins to fall apart in the second half of the film because things become much too neat and simple to be intriguing or believable. This is a shame and this fundamental filmmaking error can only be blamed on Villeneuve.
To Villeneuve's credit, he does undergird the film with subtle and effective nods to Apocalypse Now (in particular in the Wallace scenes with their stark shadow and light contrast) and even A Clockwork Orange (with Las Vegas looking like a colossally overgrown Korova Milk Bar). This is the second big blockbuster sequel to pay homage to Apocalypse Now this year, with War for the Planet of the Apes being the first. This, along with the contrasting red/blue color scheme, certainly gets my attention in regards to the Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory, but that is a discussion for another day.
As for the acting, Ryan Gosling does solid if unspectacular work as K. He is the driving force for the entire film and certainly has the charisma to pull it off. I have always found Gosling to be an interesting actor and he doesn't disappoint in Blade Runner 2049. What may be most appealing about Gosling in the film is his underlying and undying sense of his humanity which is palpable and serves him and the story very well.
The supporting cast is much less impressive. Regardless of his history of box office returns, Harrison Ford has always been a rather wooden, second rate actor and he proves that once again as the older version of Rick Deckard. Ford seems so detached from his surroundings it feels like he is in a constant state of having just been woken up.
The more surprising of bad performances in the film belongs to an actress that I absolutely think is fantastic, and that is Robin Wright. I have been a fan of Ms, Wright's work for decades, but in Blade Runner 2049 she turns in a really awful piece of work. It seems to me that Ms. Wright is stuck in the rhythm, voice and posture of her House of Cards character Claire Underwood and it terribly under serves her as Lt. Joshi. This is a common problem for actors who have success in a television show where they must play the same character for months on end, year after year. That said, I was shocked to see it happen to an actress as talented and skilled as Robin Wright, but happen it did. Her character in Blade Runner 2049 is actually very pivotal to the story, so when she fails to deliver a quality performance, the film really suffers for it.
Jared Leto, as always, does very good but strange work as the bizarre and god-like Niander Wallace. Leto is nothing if not committed to his roles, and that approach serves him well as the blind creator Wallace. Much like Woody Harrelson in War for the Planet of the Apes, there is a whiff of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now in Leto's creation, but it is entirely appropriate and always compelling.
I wish Blade Runner 2049 had been better as I ended up being mildly disappointed with it, which may have more to do with my high expectations after a 35 year wait rather than the film's failings. Blade Runner 2049 really is a decent film, but it could have and should have been much better than it was. There is true cinematic greatness lurking beneath the surface of Blade Runner 2049, but director Villeneuve fails to adequately conjure it to the surface and instead delivers a film that passes for good enough but not great. That said, I do recommend you watch the original film first and then go see Blade Runner 2049 in the theatre, if only to meditate on what it means to be human and to marinate in the spectacular genius of the visual masterpiece delivered by cinematographer Roger Deakins.