a review by the Crow (& the Azure-Winged Magpie).
This Story Isn’t Over Yet. There’s Still A Movie Left
I’ve mostly covered the lead-up to (including my thoughts about) this movie in my review/partial-synopsis of the three Blade Runner short films that were released over the past month, so I shan’t go into too much detail just here.
Now, I’m going to rein myself in tight for this review. I promise that there will be no spoilers in this post. Rather, I’ll gloss over the premise released by the studio and talk more about my reactions (like most reviewers do) to what happens in this movie. In the future, I might follow it up with a more in-depth review, although I think it might not be needed.
Accompanying me on this review will be the Azure-Winged Magpie, whom I watched it with. She’ll add in a few of her thoughts on the movie before we reveal our final scores.
Before we proceed onto our reviews, here is the official premise of the movie according to bladerunnermovie.com:
Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
THE CROW: BLADE RUNNER 2049
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS NO SPOILERS
One of the issues with doing a plot breakdown before proceeding to review Blade Runner 2049 is that it almost immediately reveals a plot-point that the uninitiated would consider a major spoiler. The movie does not hold onto this spoiler, though. It takes it at face value and runs with it. We run into Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) from 2048: Nowhere to Run, and the main plot lurches into motion.
This is no sprint, though. This sequel stays true to its roots by pacing things more-or-less perfectly. There is no constant urge throughout the approximately 160~ minute running time to rush from one plot point to the next. Blade Runner 2049 revels in the reputation of its predecessor. It knows that those looking forward to it are in no rush to be impressed.
Pacing aside, the first thing one notices is the extreme artistry of the visuals on screen. Now, I’m not one for hyperbole. I’ve noticed many an early review fall prey to that sort of language. But with a cinematic experience as rich and layered as Blade Runner 2049, I can see why people might have a hard time ‘selling’ the movie without spoiling the plot (after all, that is what reviews under embargo are intended for).
To allow myself a tiny bit of hyperbole, then: Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of a visual masterpiece. I doubt there is a single person who will not feel moved by the work on display. Toeing the line between surrealism and neon dreams from the most visionary scenes in cyberpunk, the movie looks gorgeous. Heck, it even takes colour palettes I’m not particularly fond of and manages to pull art out of them.
The world of Blade Runner diverged from ours at some unknown point, and rather than be bogged down by the need to realign this future world with what we know right now (to a most strange urge that we writers have, sometimes — I’ve myself felt it), 2049 expands on that original vision. Of course, the shorts helped (especially Blackout 2022), but they’re almost unneeded, since the movie contains its world well within its grasp.
The audio design, on the other hand, I felt was a slight bit weaker. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s very, very good, in fact. It just wasn’t as masterful as the visual aspects of the movie. I was almost just going to skip mentioning it entirely in this review, since I don’t think I have much to say about it. It is — at the end of the day — very Blade Runner.
Now, we come to a crossroads: the plot. While I’ve just praised the pacing of the movie, the plot — labyrinthine in its own right — is at times, stretched a little thin. I have no issues with this, myself, but it might not be for those more acclimated to the edge-of-your-seat-constant-beat form of storytelling that’s rife in Hollywood these days. The pacing picks up a little in the second half, once we meet a promised familiar face, but the movie keeps itself from going into overdrive.
But how much meat is there on Blade Runner 2049‘s bones? To the cyberpunk aficionado, it might run a little thin. To call this movie “deep” would be incorrect. There are questions here, interesting ones; but the movie stays centred around its own four walls for the most part. It explores a good number of the same themes as the first, ultimately, but it does so in interesting ways. To be more specific: there is a very natural evolution of the themes presented in the original movie that flourish in this future world, which should make fans of the original happy, while not alienating any newcomers.
I found the story a touch above satisfactory. It delivers on its premise, but keeps itself from the ambition of reaching ludicrous heights. As I’ve mentioned before, I admire that sort of restraint in writers.
I find it best to class both movies as productions where the story is best left unspoken (unless specific information is needed). The true conflicts and resolutions of the story are best left to the undercurrent. That is where the heart of both movies ultimately lie.
Now, on to the characters and the performances that make them up:
Officer K (a sure throwback reference to the writings of Franz Kafka — if not PKD himself, played by Ryan Gosling) is an interesting one. Ryan Gosling is back in NWR-style stoic-mode. While I loved its use in Drive, I absolutely hated its recurrence in Only God Forgives (a movie I consider to be NWR losing sight of reality for a moment). Here, in 2049, it works perfectly. His character arc is played safe, but comes with its own bumps and kinks. Gosling rises to the occasion as the plot weaves around K and his actions. Even though he is effectively the central character of 2049, I think it’s best to view him as more of an interlude in the overarching story. If anything, I think Gosling’s involvement was a masterstroke of casting. That undercurrent I mentioned? He’s strong in its ways.
The rest of the main cast (which is quite sizeable) all handle their jobs with flair. I have to step aside and commend the character, character arc, and performance of Joi (Ana de Armas) in particular. Her inclusion was an aperture into other possible realms of exploration within the Blade Runner continuity, and it is nothing short of a welcome pleasure.
Returning to this universe are Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). While Gaff goes unsung in the movie, Deckard returns in full form — reclaiming his movie from the new cast as we head towards the finale. There is a twist in the tale that requires his presence at the very end, and I must commend the writers for not falling prey to a certain tired trope which has been done to death in recent years (one even featuring Mr Ford himself).
Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is not only a visual masterpiece, it’s one of those movies that works both as a standalone (admittedly, it shouldn’t be watched as a standalone) and as a worthy sequel. It’s a solid movie made better by how it addresses the expectations that it was forever fated to be in the shadows of.
Despite certain minor nitpicks I have with the movie, I enjoyed it very much. Far as I go: this is a must watch. In terms of 2017, this is up there with Dunkirk, and what an odd pair we have for my favourite movies of the year (so far). They might be polar opposites, but they both command curiosity, and attention.
I’ll hand the reins over to the Azure-Winged Magpie for now. I’ll see you soon in the “Closing Thoughts” section.
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: BLADE RUNNER 2049
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS NO SPOILERS
Note: My Magpie-voice is inactive in this review.
What a thrill! I’ll keep my thoughts to a minimum since I can’t help but spoil things sometimes, but my gosh was Blade Runner 2049 amazing! While I have nothing but respect for the original, I’m not a committed “fan”. And this sequel has just made the original more awesome in my mind.
It’s hard for me to explain what it is about this film that makes the original better, looking back on it. Blade Runner 2049 is by no means a limp film: it’s great! But because it’s so great, it somehow makes the original tower even taller. Maybe it’s because it reaffirms how awesome the original vision was, maybe because it makes me think about the questions the first one raised. I’m not deep into cyberpunk, but I have to disagree with the Crow for a moment, here. I think the movie is “deep”. It’s just not “deep” in the way most people think.
I agree with the “undercurrent” idea. This film, like its daddy, is good at hiding the real questions bugging it: What is reality? How do we know it? Where do we go? Sure. It doesn’t see all of them out, but it leaves us with enough to wonder about.
To be fair, my brain’s still scrambled(like an egg!) by the psychedelic pretty lights and shadows of the film for me to start mouthing off about philosophy (or what I think is philosophical, anyways), so I’ll stop for now.
And before I forget: the music blends so well in with everything! It really heightens the effect of the visuals. The CGI blends in so well with the actual sets and people that I kept getting surprised when my brain didn’t pick up on certain scenes until a few seconds down the line.
And Joi… oh Joi. Her character jerked tears from the both of us and the folks around us. To me, some of the background characters stood out a lot more than our main character K, even though he’s cool and all. I loved Luv, and I’m kind of scratching my head a little bit about where the bleeding hell Wallace up and went, but I also sniff a sequel in here.
All I know is I’m going to have to watch it again. (And maybe a few times after that.) This is film of the year material. This is it. Right here.
Visually stunning and yet deceitfully simple at the same time, with a story that flourishes naturally from the events of the original Blade Runner, I’m going to go ahead and call Blade Runner 2049 a triumph. Does that mean it’s a masterpiece in its own right? I’m not so sure. It’s certainly one of the best movies of the year, but whether or not it will stand as tall as its predecessor, only time will tell.
It seems that the movie has been met with similar acclaim across most early reviews (with the exception of morons such as this). Whether or not it keeps its lofty scores is up to its wider reception, and up until that point, I guess we’ll leave our thoughts as they stand.
For now, all I can say is that 2049 is a sequel of the highest order, and comes highly recommended by both the Azure-Winged Magpie and myself. I would — as is usual with movies of this calibre — recommend you go and watch it in theatres. It’s well worth your time. Just remember, it’s a long, long movie.
Commendations to Denis Villeneuve and his team for putting this spectacle together.
THE CROW: 9/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 10/10
The official poster for the movie follows: