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Blade Runner 2049 Review

By Lora Grady

"Blade" to Rest

Note: the following review is as spoiler-free as possible but does include some character basics, references to material from the film's trailers, and story locations.

Although it's admittedly getting increasingly tougher to do it, you owe it to yourself to remain as spoiler-free as possible if you are planning to see "Blade Runner 2049." If you've chosen to read press reviews prior to seeing this towering followup to the 1982 (and 1992, and 2007) genre classic "Blade Runner," you've probably learned that critics have been tying themselves in knots trying to abide by a request from filmmaker Denis Villenueve ("Arrival") to refrain from addressing plot points or certain character appearances in reviewing the film. Mr. Villenueve is right to have put out the directive, because it's an absolute pleasure to arrive unspoiled, sit down in a dark theater, and be swept away by the unexpected flows and drifts of this story, which neatly follows and builds on the world and narrative offered in the original.

"Blade Runner 2049" accomplishes the neat trick of meeting viewers wherever they happen to be. So, whether you're a hardcore "Blade Runner"/Ridley Scott/Philip K. Dick fanatic who's been counting the days until release, or a casual fan who saw one of the many cuts of the progenitor and want to know how the story continues, or if you're setting foot in the theater with no idea what you're getting yourself into with this "Blade Runner" business, "2049" will satisfy on some level.


Committed fans will be pleased to see that this new chapter builds on the story of the original (in 2019, LA cop Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is tasked with hunting down and eliminating four rogue androids or "Replicants," and his search leads him to question the concepts of identity, consciousness, and human nature) in ways that both cement some of the uncertainties lingering from the first and provide an expansive canvas to explore related questions in greater depth. It also raises new questions to be pondered. Casual viewers coming to "2049" with some recollection of the basic plot will have enough blanks filled in to be able to pick up the thread, and anyone who saw the original will be pleased to see that its groundbreaking aesthetic has survived intact. For new viewers, it is that set of visuals that will make the greatest impression; it's safe to say that even if you have no interest in its story, "Blade Runner 2049" is worth seeing for the visual impact alone.

It's something of a challenge to review a film without being able to address the plot. It does seem safe to note some basics that could be gleaned from a quick viewing of the trailer: namely that Ryan Gosling ("La La Land") is a cop in 2049 Los Angeles and he's doing the same sort of work that occupied Deckard in the original. Because this is ultimately a neo-noir like the original, the routine pursuit of his objective uncovers a mystery, and soon he's directed by LAPD brass to follow the clues and see where they lead.

Those clues lead to a staggering number of locations (grimy, rain-soaked downtown LA; a rusty and denuded coast-adjacent wasteland; an abandoned casino that's a curious melding of quiet organic luxury and wheezy neon technology; a sand-blasted barrens where towering, ruined statues rise up like something out of "Ozymandias") and meander into storyline cul-de-sacs that are ultimately knit into the primary narrative. "Blade Runner 2049" is long - about 2 hours & 45 minutes - and it seems at times unnecessarily so, but when the ambling storyline starts to chafe it's generally rescued by the gorgeous visuals. Shots are artfully composed, often utilizing a Kubrickian one-point perspective that's visually pleasing as well as providing a narrative-advancing contrast between clean, cool high-tech interiors where creators ponder how to mimic the appearance of life and the messy, dangerous, neon-stained exteriors where it's actually being lived.

We have brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins, in his third collaboration with Mr. Villenueve - following "Prisoners" and "Sicario" - to thank for this visual treasure-trove.  He perfectly captures and advances the memorable mix of slick, towering neon billboards and street-level grunge that were such a calling-card of the original "Blade Runner" (it's fun to see that according to those billboards, in this version of 2049 Atari is still a commercial contender and Pan Am continues to fly the friendly skies), and there are several shots of light reflecting off decorative water elements in that high-tech interior that are simple but dazzlingly beautiful.

Less attractive and more troubling is the treatment of "2049's" female characters as agents of plot advancement at best , and at worst, disposable playthings or targets of careless violence. It's difficult to explicate further without wading into the storyline, but it's an off-putting and uncomfortable element that mars some of the film's sensual beauty.

Though overly-long and occasionally uncomfortable, "Blade Runner 2049" is a cinematic accomplishment that is worth seeing, and in the theater if possible. It's a proverbial feast for the eyes that will also engage your mind and heart as you consider the questions it raises about the nature of consciousness and if we can truly believe inborn assumptions about our own identities. "2049" doesn't offer any single emotional moment that's as iconic as the "Tears in Rain" monologue from the original, but there's still plenty here that should stand the test of time.

What did you think?

Movie title Blade Runner 2049
Release year 2017
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Try to avoid spoilers because it's best to see this visually rich followup to "Blade Runner" unprepared so you can enjoy being swept away by the story that neatly builds on the world and narrative of the original.
View all articles by Lora Grady
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