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What’s up everybody? I’m Joe Baress and this is “Five Minutes in the Film Room.”
The original Blade Runner is something that means a lot to people. Well, when I say original, I guess I have to be a little more specific. Is it the theatrical cut? The director’s cut? The final cut? The cut of the cut of the cut? Although there are so many cuts, and the theatrical version did not make a lot at the box office, Blade Runner developed a cult following strong enough to push a sequel into motion 35 years later.
I’m 27 so I wasn’t even alive when the first movie came out. And I only saw the movie because of what the sequel Blade Runner 2049 had going for it.
I’ve loved Ryan Gosling ever since he played the defensive liability Alan in Remember the Titans. He was cast in the leading role. The great Harrison Ford was returning to the project, after a stellar performance reprising another role of the past, Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Denis Villeneuve, coming off the best movie of 2016 Arrival, and other great films such as Sicario and Prisoners, was also attached to direct the sequel. When asked why he took on the project, he said, “I didn’t want someone else to f*** this up.” And oh yeah, cinematography by the great Roger Deakins.
So this was in place to be one of the best movies of the year. But I had to see the original first. I watched the final cut a few weeks ago, and I thought it was an excellent film. Way ahead of its time when it came out in 1982. It’s weird to talk about it now, because it influenced so many movies of today. So the themes presented are familiar. But you can’t take away from it, because it was obviously released before those films. So clearly I’m not the person to talk about the merits of the first film.
What I can talk about is 2049 … Let’s go to the tape.
With a 2 hour, 43 minute run time, Blade Runner 2049 runs the risk of being a slow film to some. But it is not slow. It’s deliberate. Like the first film, the pace builds tension and gives you an opportunity to see the world with Deakins’ beautiful cinematography, perhaps good enough to finally get him that elusive Oscar. Gosling helps this process by walking slowly like he always has to look over his shoulder, ready for the next attack. Because one, he is a cop. And two, because he is a replicant that humans don’t want anything to do with. Similar to an X-Men movie and the struggle between mutants and humans.
Gosling is once again great. What gets overlooked in his performances are his facial expressions. He can tell you everything you need to know without speaking. Look at his face. Watch Drive. Watch La La Land. He’s up there with the best actors working today. Not just a pretty boy.
In the film, Gosling has a relationship with a hologram Joi, played by Ana de Armas. She does a phenomenal job as the relationship between the two is very real.
Dave Bautista continues to stay in his lane and perfect what he can accomplish as an actor. A small role here, but effective.
Harrison Ford delivers a Force Awakens-like performance. Which is exactly what we’re looking for from one of the best movie stars of all time.
As I said, the visuals are great. The world-building is excellent and the score adds to the claustrophobia and a lack of peace in 2049. It’s loud and uncomfortable. That’s its purpose.
It’s difficult to talk about the deeper implications of the film in a review without spoiling the movie or devoting the time necessary to the topic. What I will say is I enjoyed the simple plot of the film. Gosling’s character, K, (yes, like Men in Black), is looking for a place in the world. A purpose. And the movie explores this very well.
It also definitely calls back to the original film. I don’t think you have to see the first one, but it definitely adds a lot if you have.
Although I really enjoyed the film, Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t reach the heights of the other Denis Villeneuve films. It’s not as good as Arrival. It’s not as good as Prisoners. It’s not as good as Sicario. But that is admittedly a murderers’ row of movies. I find his other movies transformative. You leave the theater emotionally in a different place. I still think about Arrival, and I still love watching it. When I saw Blade Runner 2049, I left thinking it was a very good movie, but I wasn’t strongly moved. So I guess that’s a negative, but it’s only a negative because of how good his movies have been.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Blade Runner 2049 is a better movie than the original. The visuals are great, the acting is solid and the story works for a follow-up to Blade Runner. But it doesn’t do enough to reach the level of past Villeneuve films. And I think that’s going to disappoint fans of the original. Although it’s an excellent movie, Blade Runner 2049 isn’t the experience people are looking for.
I’ll compare Blade Runner 2049 to the former quarterback controversy on the Washington Redskins. For a time, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins were both solid quarterbacks, both thought to be possible franchise quarterbacks. The Redskins quickly realized, they didn’t need both of them.