It’s not often you see a studio give a sizable budget to an arthouse director, allowing them free reign to make a sequel to one of the most beloved sci-fi films of all time. It’s even more unlikely that that film will be both a critical and box office success.
It was only last month that we saw Darren Aronofsky piss off just about everybody with his controversial, divisive drama mother! Now it looks like he has some stiff competition for the most fascinating studio film of the year.
Every moment of Blade Runner 2049 is brimming with the skill of director Denis Villeneuve, the man behind the brilliant Arrival. It’s blisteringly beautiful and violent; a remarkable piece of filmmaking that’s bound to be on everybody’s lips come Oscar season.
But while many of its ingredients seem like a recipe for box office success, it’s also slow, contemplative, and a few minutes shy of three hours long. They’re not necessarily bad qualities, but they’re bound to have a few popcorn moviegoers mulling over their decision at the ticket desk.
It would be a shame to ruin the way that Villeneuve explores the universe first created by Ridley Scott for the original Blade Runner 35 years ago, so here’s your spoiler-free guide to whether or not this awe-inspiring, unique blockbuster is for you.
Ryan Gosling will become your new sci-fi hero
Brooding, stoic and quietly trying to make sense of his purpose in life, Ryan Gosling takes the reigns from former frontman Harrison Ford to play Officer K, an LAPD cop asked to tackle the sinister actions of androids called “replicants,” who are roaming the city undercover. Somehow, Gosling manages to be both terrifyingly robotic and methodic with the way he takes down bad guys, but he also has a strangely affectionate side to him too, maintaining a fascinating relationship with his artificial, holographic girlfriend Joi, who changes her outfits and sensibilities to reflect K’s mood.
After years playing the bashful boyfriend in soppy chick flicks and comedic characters, Gosling appears to be the most comfortable in challenging sci-fi cinema. In 2049, he delivers an understated, complex and career-best performance.
You don’t need to have seen the original to enjoy it
If you’re trying to figure out whether or not you need to see the original film by Ridley Scott before you venture out to see 2049 this weekend – fear not! Although this is billed as a sequel, there’s very little continuation between Blade Runner and its follow-up – especially since there’s a 30-year gap between where the former left off and this one picks up.
If you’re still worried about catching up on all of the lingo (who wants to be the dude asking his friend to explain what a replicant is half way through a movie?), there’s a handy description that contextualizes the film before it all kicks off, meaning you can save the experience of Scott’s irrefutable classic for afterwards.
It runs deeper than dystopian sci-fi movies usually do
Recently, we’ve been spoiled by the huge number of fun, bombastic films about outer space and alien capers; it would only be so long before a director started to ground it again. Villeneuve’s knack for using the usually steely exterior of sci-fi as a platform for stories that explore the human condition means that Blade Runner 2049 is less of a sugar-fueled crowd pleaser and more of a brilliant way of portraying how we dissect identity, mortality and motives. It might sound boring to some, but 2049 is one of those rare films that demands debate over its meaning after it’s finished, in a manner similar to Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
And yet it’s still brutally violent
Lately, studios have been placing commerciality over vision, cutting down on the prevalence of on-screen violence to grab a lower-aged certificate and, thus, a larger audience. It’s meant that the vast majority of sci-fi movies to hit screens in the past year or two have been largely bloodless or comic-book like with their fight scenes.
Blade Runner 2049 has collected all the violent tendencies dropped by big budget movies, peppering them sporadically throughout. Whether it’s the agility and combat skills of Luv, an alluring and dangerous replicant who sets out to capture and kill Gosling’s character, or a brief and impactful head-smashing appearance from a character played by Bautista, 2049 is proudly, beautifully bloodthirsty and often wildly entertaining as a result.
From set design to groaning score, it’s a cinematic spectacle
One thing that set the original Blade Runner apart from the ilk when it was released 35 years ago was its ability to create a neo-noir detective world with elements of science fiction. In 2049, the flying cars made famous by the original are giving a roaring upgrade, while the dystopian city of LA has never looked more neon and fascinating. Villeneuve and the film’s set designer Joseph Hiura (who also designed a fellow futuristic reboot, Ghost in the Shell) have done a remarkable job of both propelling Ridley Scott’s world 30 years into the future, while paying homage to the original with some of the most stunning examples of CGI we’ve ever seen.
And despite the mishaps with the score – with regular Villeneuve collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson being booted off the film at the last minute and replaced by reliable Hollywood legend Hans Zimmer – 2049’s moaning, groaning, ominous score and sound design propel it to a new, otherworldly level.
Slow and dreamy, it’s no popcorn movie – so be prepared
If you’re tired and in the mood to zone out for a few hours, it’s probably best to see Blade Runner 2049 another time. As a cinema-going audience, we’ve become used to switch-off cinema; big multiplex movies that please the masses and break innumerable box office records, hogging the top spot of the charts for weeks.
While they’re great fun to watch and can definitely be done well (we only need to look as far as Marvel to prove that), seeing 2049 in the cinema is a unique and truly spiritual experience that its viewers should appreciate. Choose wisely, but seriously, and give this film a chance: Blade Runner 2049is a slow, progressive spectacle that demands your attention from start to finish.