Review: 'Blade Runner 2049' is a Brilliant and Tense Slow Burn
Clocking in at two hours and 43 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 is a long movie. But it never feels cluttered or too empty, and it moves at a slow, brooding pace much like Ridley Scott's original in 1982, to the point where it wouldn't feel like Blade Runner if the plot moved any faster. As long as you have almost three hours to spare, it's worth every minute.
Because 2049 feels like a proper Blade Runner sequel, recreating the grimy eeriness of the original 1982 movie through its harsh grays and neon lights (even with Scott no longer directing), its preference for tense, dramatic struggles instead of peppy action sequences (there are still plenty of fist fights), and even its haunting synth music (Hans Zimmer and his team faithfully mimic Vangelis' old score). And the question of "How human can a replicant truly be?" weighs over the entire film, which pokes at the question in new ways that Roy Batty might've been proud of, even if his actor Rutger Hauer wasn't interested in the sequel.
Since the trailers avoided spoiling much of the film's plot, we'll similarly stay away from major spoilers. Suffice to say that less than ten minutes into the film, the first of many plot twists begin to roll out, and a story about a new Blade Runner (Ryan Gosling) solving a bleak-but-compelling mystery - about replicants, of course - moves steadily along despite the slow pacing, although a handful of major questions which Blade Runner fans have wondered for ages still go open-ended.
Blade Runner 2049 is a visually stunning masterpiece. Villeneuve and Deakins at their very best. A rare sequel on level with a cult classic. pic.twitter.com/7ChSHRZsmu— Dharma Bhagalia (@Kloppholic) October 5, 2017
Of course, Villeneuve finds time to linger on most of these shots thanks to that runtime, and his distaste for CGI helps all these settings feel more alive through practical effects, as bizarre looking as they are. The fight scenes look great too, and while the calm synth music makes a couple fights feel almost relaxing to watch, they're still brutal.
Considering how Ridley Scott's recent attempts at reviving Alien have been poorly received, it's probably for the better that he let Villeneuve take over the duty of reviving Blade Runner.
The acting was all-around solid; the film's more likely to win for directing than for acting, but there were no weak links in the cast. Gosling has a good balance between the "tough detective" and "sensitive recluse" sides of his character, and his relationship with Ana de Armas' character Joi was surprisingly touching, as the two have an unusual living situation. Robin Wright is unsurprisingly fantastic in her role as no-nonsense LAPD chief Joshi, as is Dave Bautista (Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy) as a "sentimental skinjob" named Sapper.
Harrison Ford makes a welcome return as Rick Deckard - he doesn't appear immediately, but once he's introduced, he shows the same stoic irreverence as he did in 1982 (to the point that Ford accidentally punched Gosling for real while filming). But even though Ford is prominent in the movie, this story belongs to Gosling's Officer K, not to Deckard. So don't go in expecting the continued adventures of Harrison Ford.
Jared Leto, as Niander Wallace, is menacing for his approximate five minutes of screen time - the fact that he went through the trouble of temporarily blinding himself for the role seems even weirder knowing that he stays behind the yellow walls of his factory the whole time, preferring to delegate his requests (and his screen time) to his assistant Luv, played as well-mannered but dangerously ill-tempered by actress Sylvia Hoeks.
If there's one problem with the script, by Blade Runner veteran Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, it's that the movie seems nervous about its long runtime, as there are frequent flashbacks to earlier parts of the film, or voiceover from characters repeating their lines from earlier scenes. It's not necessary, because the story is memorable and easy to follow despite the length.
But that aside, the script is a fascinating noir story, with few moments for humor, but lots of witty one-liners during the action scenes. Bad sequels and remakes tend to be forgotten - Blade Runner 2049 may underperform at the box office, but it will very likely be remembered by fans for some time to come.