When I first heard of Blade Runner getting a proper sequel 35 years after its release, well, I was clearly skeptical. In no world did I think 75-year-old Harrison Ford was going to reprise his role as Rick Deckard. Heck, Ryan Gosling as a blade runner? Puh-lease — who can even bring this idea to life?
Enter director Denis Villeneuve, a Québec native who’s made quite the name for himself (see: Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners). This is the moment I realized the wonky idea might actually work; Blade Runner 2049 may be a proper sequel.
Proper is one word I’d use. A phrase I’d also favor would be “better than the original” because, heck, he did it — Villeneuve succeeded where I thought many would fail.
2049 takes place years after Blade Runner. The world is now more desolate, and blade runners, like our main character ‘K’ (Gosling), hunt down the remaining Series-8 model replicants. Along our journey, K discovers the mystery of a former blade runner, Deckard (Ford), and he’s looking to solve it, which may also reveal more about K’s past.
There are multiple layers to this film. Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green worked to deliver a tale surrounding human emotion, existence and how society reacts with one another — and that’s just scraping the surface. This is the type of film that lingered with me long after leaving my local theater. I noticed how much care was put into a story so complex. Outstanding direction helped paint a picture I didn’t expect to witness for two hours and 44 minutes.
The spotlight is clearly on Gosling throughout 2049, and it’s justified. The actor once known for The Notebook broke out of his shell in 2012 with The Place Beyond the Pines. His raw emotion bled through the screen throughout 2049. There are moments where Gosling speaks with his eyes, as side-profile shots help draw in the audience and allow them to feel engrossed in the mind of K. Even simpler scenes, like snow gently falling onto K’s hand, stuck in my mind days after my first viewing. Gosling wonderfully captures the complexity of his character without forcing himself to produce emotion. You can tell he fell in love with this role, and his dedication to K shows.
Villeneuve also succeeded where some directors have failed in the past decade: He got Ford to actually act. Tears trickled down Ford’s cheeks in a sequence, while his anger was felt in others. For an actor who’s 75 years old, reprising his role as Deckard revitalized Ford. There’s not much else to say, however, because he took a bit of a step back, allowing his counterparts to shine bright.
A fantastic component to 2049 that I hope gets spoken of more is its supporting cast. It begins with Sylvia Hoeks, who plays a cold-blooded, menacing character named Luv. There’s a sequence that I’ll withhold for the sake of spoilers, but my jaw was left on the floor upon witnessing her villainous attitude. Robin Wright is always a class-act, and she plays Lieutenant Joshi, who’s in charge of handing out orders to K. Wrights did well, albeit playing it safe for the majority of the film. The film ceased to surprise me, as Lennie James of Walking Dead fame and Barkhad Abdi — who deserves more work, even after his small role here and in Good Time — make appearances, as well.
However, in a crowded field of stars in the supporting cast, I absolutely loved Ana de Armas‘ performance as K’s AI lover, Joi. The role in and of itself produced serious Her vibes, but de Armas was integral in carrying out one of the deeper themes of 2049, and she did so flawlessly. Joi struggles with knowing she can only be as real as a piece of software for K, but she loves this man. It’s a love that can never be completely reciprocated, so what does she do? Ana de Armas blurred the line between real and artificial so beautifully that I wanted to see at least 15 more minutes of her character on-screen.
While there’s much to love about 2049, there’s a nitpick complaint I had as the end credits ran. Villeneuve is a good director, there’s no question, but the man loves to flex his muscle a bit too much in the first half. The film is a slow burn in the beginning, as moments that weren’t really significant to the rest of the plot felt drawn out. I recognize the beauty of this film, I just felt a little less indulgence in the first couple acts would’ve benefited 2049.
That’s really the only complaint that I could gather from what is a near-perfect sci-fi spectacle. Villeneuve adds to his already impressive resume with Blade Runner 2049, setting the bar for future sci-fi tales and sequels. This film did so much for the genre in a time where schlock runs rampant. A shame it isn’t a box office boomer, but who cares? This is a fantastic film, and one that I’ll implore anyone to watch.
Blade Runner 2049 is rated R and is in theaters now.