When Warner Bros. asked film critics and journalists to sign non-disclosure agreements forbidding them from discussing the actual plot of Blade Runner: 2049 in their reviews it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Guarding against spoilers is a prudent course of action, of course, but WB’s approach was more stringent than usual, mandating not just signing an NDA but also falling in line with the demands of the film’s director Denis Villeneuve over what they could and could not say. As Alyssa Rosenberg detailed in her Washington Post op-ed, Villeneuve ordered, for example, a total blackout of discussion of the film’s establishing scene, and “requested that if queried about a specific actor or character, we say, ‘We meet many striking characters over the course of the film, and she is one of them … I wouldn’t want to single anyone out; you’ll have to see the film for yourself to truly appreciate where everybody fits in.’”

Seeing as how critics are feeling especially under fire as of late due to being scapegoated along with RottenTomatoes for this summer’s near-historic downturn in movie attendance, this bit of dictation from WB felt like the latest in an increasingly long line of examples of Hollywood questioning the actual necessity of critics in the first place. In this particular case, the attempt to prevent spoilers went too far in preventing any kind of substantive discussion of the film whatsoever.

Is it even okay to identify these actors (spoiler: one of them is Ryan Gosling) or name the characters they’re playing?

The reason I bring this up in what is ostensibly supposed to be my spoiler-free Blade Runner: 2049 review and NOT some discussion about the state of film journalism and criticism is that I happen to completely agree with Villeneuve. I saw his movie last night. It’s amazing. And I don’t want to tell you anything about it other than that it’s amazing and you should go see it.

That might seem overly precious or simplistic. After all, most movies are best enjoyed with minimal to no advanced knowledge about what to expect or what’s going to happen in the story. But that is especially true of Blade Runner: 2049, a sequel 35 years removed from the 1982 classic that shaped futuristic sci-fi for years to come and gave us terms like “replicant” and Rutger Hauer’s magnificent “tears in the rain” speech. The legacy of Ridley Scott’s original has only grown with time, especially since it wasn’t until 10 years ago that he finally settled on a final cut of the movie. However, for all of its merits and bonafides as an outright classic Blade Runner is not without its flaws, particularly in terms of plot. As Harrison Ford himself once put it in mocking reference to his replicant-hunting character Rick Deckard, “I was a detective who did not have any detecting to do.”

2049 is thus tasked with walking a fine line between honoring the look and feel of its predecessor while also advancing the story and improving on the original’s flaws. It manages to do so about as successfully as I’ve ever seen from any sequel. The story is better, deeper and less reliant on things simply falling into the protagonist’s lap. The visuals are spellbindingly familiar, yet also new. You instantly feel at home and back inside of the Blade Runner world. Gloomy, rain-soaked L.A.? Check. Giant, interactive billboards? Check. Cool flying cars? Check. A futuristic cityscape that looks kind of like modern day Tokyo? Check. Vangelis-aping musical score? Check. Even the costuming is mostly the same.

However, as the film progresses you begin to notice that Ridley Scott’s overt neo-film noir style from ‘82, characterized by an overwhelming supply of curtain-filtered shadows, has been replaced with something less reliant on old detective movies and more inspired by Villeneuve’s likely love for gritty, futuristic sci-fi. He even weaves in some of the lighting designs from the interior of his Arrival ships into the depressingly bleak offices and apartments of 2049, and creates with his supremely talented production team a world you’d never want to actually visit but can’t quite look away from. They reportedly spent somewhere between $150m and $200m to make this movie, and the money’s clearly all up there on the screen.

Moreover, if you are someone who’s not all that familiar with the first Blade Runner all of these visual touchstones in 2049 manage to hold up on their own as universe-establishing flourishes not at all dragged down by similarities to any of the various Blade Runner imitators of the past couple of decades. At most, it might make you vaguely think, “Oh, so this is like a better version of what that Ghost in the Shell movie was going for.”

Blade-Runner-2049-trailer-breakdown-37.jpg

The story is strong and visuals often breathtaking. The themes are also suitably complex, picking up the torch from the original’s discussion of the nature of humanity and mortality and delving even deeper. And the performances are almost entirely across-the-board spectacular, with special praise for the various women – Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis – who surprisingly steal the movie from Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. There’s a reason, then, that critics have been hailing 2049 as a new sci-fi masterpiece for weeks now.

If there are flaws, they are forgivable. At two hours and forty-three minutes long, you occasionally feel the film’s bloat. Returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher and new co-writer Michael Green’s (Logan, American Gods) script makes the mistake of having certain characters repeatedly spell out the themes for us. Villeneuve proves surprisingly poor at handling certain conventional action scenes (though predictably amazing at nailing tense moments and moments of extreme violence). Jared Leto’s performance is already and will continue to be divisive. And the third act is not 100% worthy of the build-up.

But in the age of perpetual franchise reboot/relaunch/requel/sequel/whatever Blade Runner: 2049 is about as good as it gets, honoring the original by equaling and in some ways bettering its genius. We’ve had a mixed track record of supporting sci-fi this year, mostly flocking to the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Logan while rejecting Ghost in the Shell, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Transformers: The Last Knight. There’s a reason for that – those movies weren’t very good. Blade Runner: 2049 is different. This is amazing sci-fi filmmaking. Please see it, and then come back to discuss it because I will have a spoiler discussion of the movie up before the end of the weekend.

Advertisements

Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

6 Comments

  1. I’m glad to hear this as I was really looking forward to seeing this movie. I’m a huge fan of the original and I was hoping that this movie wasn’t simply a retread. I’m glad to hear it builds on the original rather than simply aping it and the short films that were made for it have already captured my imagination.
    .
    I was greatly impressed with Villanueve’s Arrival. its one of my favorite Scifi movies from last year, and I was very eager to find out what he’d do with this sequel.

    Alas, I won’t be seeing this this weekend as my Mom has decided she wants to see The Mountain Between Us because it stars her new eye candy, Idris Elba, and she doesn’t want to go to the theater by herself. I like to shamelessly spoil my mother so I’ll be seeing TMBU because it makes her very happy.

    Reply

    1. Honestly, I mostly put the “This Weekend” part in there because the title read kind of odd to me without it. I’m not so insistent that we need to support this and get it to a big opening weekend, more I want to do my small part in spreading the word that this is a movie absolutely worth seeing in theaters whenever you find the time to getting to it.

      Reply

  2. I didn’t love the original (final cut) but Blade Runner 2049 was incredible. Hopefully, enough people will get out to the cinema and see this film!

    Reply

    1. I didn’t really talk about it in my review because I plan on discussing the original film in more detail in another article, but, actually, I agree with you. I don’t love Blade Runner. I admire it. I can’t stop looking at some of the visuals. But I don’t really love it as a movie. Blade Runner 2049, though, no, I loved it. Can’t wait to see it again.

      Reply

      1. It’s definitely one I want to see again!

  3. […] be clear, the film is a near masterpiece. I already said as much in my spoiler-free review. But it’s been out for three days now. Let’s geek out over it in spoilery abandon. So, here are […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s