I apologize for my absence of late. Now, let’s get back to some good ole’ fashioned movie talk.
Denis Villeneuve is back in the spotlight only a year after Arrival (2016) hit the big screens. If you didn’t see it, then you honestly need to stop reading this review and find a way to watch it ASAP. I still believe that it is the best movie to come out since Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014, which… I guess wasn’t that long ago, was it?). I have seen Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner (1982), but his movie was not the reason that this was one of my most anticipated films of the year. The original Scott film is great, but it holds a unique place in the world of classic Sci-Fi film as being somewhat polarizing. If you’re a fan of the film, then you might be raising an eyebrow after reading that, but hear me out. While they might both be Sci-Fi movies, there is no denying that Scott’s Blade Runner and Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) are two completely different beasts. Star Wars is a space epic with a traditional story structure, characters, and a pretty straight forward good-versus-bad narrative. Blade Runner has none of these things; it is essentially an art-house movie with a gigantic budget. Because of this, many of your “typical” movie goers (i.e. the people that say Marvel movies are their favorite movies) are not going to enjoy it; at least, not as much as they enjoy something like Star Wars.
I do love Scott’s original, but again, it is not why I was excited for this film. The reason I was excited is because of Villeneuve himself. For the past four years now, Villeneuve has consistently churned out films with Best Picture potential (though the Academy has not reflected this). I have had the opportunity to see Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015), and Arrival, and can say with absolute certainty – despite these being only 3 of the 5 films he’s made before this year – that this man is currently the best person working in Hollywood under the title of “director.” Again, I want to reiterate here that if you have not seen any of these films, then you should stop reading and watch one of them now. I also have reviews of his most recent projects, Arrival and Sicario.
Now then, let’s begin talking about this new movie. As you can clearly see, I was very excited to see what Villeneuve could conjure up while holding the rights to a previous great’s work. At the same time, I was very nervous about it. Creating a sequel to an existing title is something new for him, and it could potentially be his make-or-break project. Villeneuve already proved himself to be great, but a big budget project with name recognition is the thing that could distinguish him in the mainstream as a Christopher Nolan or as a Colin Trevorrow (Jurrassic World). In fact, Nolan himself was not the directing superstar he is now (at least as far as mainstream cinema is concerned) until he too took on a big budget project with wide name recognition in 2005, Batman Begins. So, the question lingered in my head: would Villeneuve take the ashes of Blade Runner and make something that was entirely his own, or would he simply reignite the flame to restart the franchise for the studio and walk away with a check like J.J. Abrams and Colin Trevorrow did?
As if to add to my nervousness, Villeneuve’s long-time partner-in-crime, Jóhann Jóhannsson, seemingly dropped out of the project just a month before the film’s release date, citing “creative differences” as the main reason for his leaving. Jóhannsson, while working alongside Villeneuve, has put out some of the best original film scores to date. This had me second-guessing the quality of the music, and music is foundational center-piece in the original Blade Runner. Scoring legend Hans Zimmer and his protege, Benjamin Wallfisch (It, Hidden Figures), continued without Jóhannsson. While they are both great composers, a part of me thought that keeping Hans Zimmer meant that the studio was going for a more generic action-flick soundtrack rather than something totally unique like Arrival or Vangelis’s original score for the 1982 film.
I think you get the point: I was very excited to see Villeneuve’s next project regardless, but I was nervous that it was a sequel to a cult-classic in an age where studios are going to milk everything they can out of their potential franchise titles. With that, let’s jump into the actual review. For the sake of time and the avoidance of any potential spoilers, the bulk of this review is going to be relatively short.
Hampton Fancher and Phillip K. Dick returned to write this sequel for Villeneuve. If anyone understands the heart of the original 1982 film, it had to be them (because I’m not sure if we can rely on Ridley Scott anymore if I’m being honest). This is a highly emotional, highly philosophical story, which is something Villeneuve has excelled at regardless of setting or genre. Like the original, this is not a Sci-Fi movie in the same sense that Star Wars, Alien, or Guardians of the Galaxy (do I really have to call that a Sci-Fi movie? Yes? Okay, but I’m not gonna be happy about it) are Sci-Fi movies. It is an exploration of philosophical ideas and humanity, much like Arrival and Prometheus are. If you’ve seen Scott’s original film, then you can go into this movie expecting something similar as far as structure and themes are concerned. Other than that, Blade Runner 2049 is its own movie.
You want specifics, you say? Very well, here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect from this film: incredible use of complex dialogue (and lack thereof), emotional and sympathetic characters, clear arcs for nearly every character in the film, subversion of common character/story tropes, and an ending that made me tear up (which makes the third Villeneuve production that I’ve cried in, and I’m proud to admit that).
In case you’re someone that has not seen the 1982 film, it is not necessary to see it before watching this movie. Yes, it does have shared characters, but these characters are established relatively well within the confines of this film.
It’s hard to talk about this section without spoiling anything, so don’t expect a lot of detail here.
Ryan Gosling nails his role as “K,” and no, he did not take inspiration from Tommy Lee Jones, who plays a similarly named character in the classic 1997 film that takes place in the same world, Men in Black. Dave Bautista is good in the small amount of screen time he actually gets. Robin Wright is terrific, as always. Cuban actress and relative newcomer, Ana de Armas, is also really good in her role; I’m sure she will be getting a lot more hits from the Google Images search bar after this.
In short, everyone gives incredible performances in this film, and there’s not really much else to say without going into those spoiling little details.
Remember my review for Baby Driver when I said that it was easily the highest score I had ever given in this category? Meet your new champion, folks. I was nervous about giving this score to any film for any category (except X-Factor), but I think if anything deserves a perfect 10, then it has to be this film. The reason I hesitated giving this score is because I can’t go any higher, and if something comes along that I think tops this one, then what do I do? Nevertheless, my gut tells me that this is the right decision. This movie easily tops any other film I’ve ever seen when it comes to pure visual bliss.
Villeneuve not only put himself in the “Christopher Nolan” tier with this film, he propelled himself straight to the top. Combining his and cinematographer Roger Deakins’ mastery of the medium creates an unstoppable force. I truly believe that these two will go down in film history as legends.
There’s a lot I could say here, but I think this section’s score speaks volumes to how much there is to talk about. Go see it for yourself.
I don’t know why I was ever worried about a Hans Zimmer original score… I actually kinda feel dumb for even thinking it. Like the rest of the film, the score is a brilliant homage to the 1982 original, but still manages to be its own unique entity. Despite Jóhannsson’s absence, there are some very haunting pieces in this score that definitely seem to be inspired by his past works. The way the music blends into the environment is especially cool; it’s often hard to determine whether the sound is diegetic (sourced from something on screen) or non-diegetic (part of the of score). The Nerdwrtier does a great video essay on the 1982 original score that I’ve posted below and recommend watching, as this score does much of the same work. One more thing to mention before I move on, however, is that this film takes advantage of silence. There are so many scenes in this film that are eerily silent. I believe the average director/composer would choose to fit music into these scenes, but Villeneuve and Zimmer restrain themselves to let audiences soak in those moments, which produces a pretty profound effect.
X-Factor: 7/10, It’s not for everyone.
Though I hope I’ve adequately conveyed how great this film is, I must still face the fact that it simply is not something every movie-goer will enjoy. Here’s the plain and simple truth: this film is an unrestrained 2 hours and 45 minutes (yes, you read that right, 165 minutes) of art-house cinema despite the monster sized budget. For a large portion of those mountainous minutes, your average movie-goer is going to say things like “nothing is happening,” or “god this is slow.” These are not unfounded complaints, but they are short-sighted. Of course, only the most brilliant minds, such as my own, will be able to fully enjoy this film for what it truly is. Nevertheless, I must adequately adjust this film’s overall score in such a way that reflects consistency… In other words, if I don’t take off points for something, this film’s score will be higher than Arrival, and I don’t think that this film is better overall than Arrival was.
With that, we have a new high score for the year (so far; but let’s be real, there’s nothing coming out that will top this… probably). Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is still one of the best movies to come out this year, but the pure artistry and mastery of this film puts it over the top by 0.2 points. It’s also worth noting that this film will snuggle right in between Arrival (a perfect 9/10… wait, what?) and Sicario (8.8/10) in Villeneuve’s filmography that I’ve reviewed so far. I’m going to recommend this movie to everyone, but not before warning them that it is very long and kinda slow. Regardless, I think it is something everyone should see in the biggest and loudest theater possible. DO NOT WAIT FOR THIS FILM TO COME OUT ON RENTAL/NETFLIX. Watching this on a small screen with puny home sound systems would be to commit an unforgivable cinematic injustice, and you will be punished accordingly… right after I find out who you are and what I can actually do without getting myself in legal trouble.