If you’ve followed the development process of «Blade Runner 2049» you will know one thing first and foremost. Or rather, not know. What is the movie acutally about? We know it stars Ryan Gosling and sees Harrison Ford return as Deckard, but that’s about it. The trailers are vague at best and information online is sparse. Even the animated prequel to the sequel doesn’t really tell you all that much.
Turns out that this is deliberate. At the European premiere in Zürich’s Cinema Corso, there was a video message by director Denis Villeneuve, accompanied by a text screen right afterwards. He asks to not only avoid spoilers for the movie but also not tell anyone anything about the plot. The reason: Villeneuve wants to preserve the experience of seeing the film for each viewer and keep the actual watching of the movie as fresh as humanly possible.
I will honour Villeneuve’s request. In this review, I will not detail the plot or reveal anything about it. I will keep that to the barest minimum possible. As much as needed, as little as possible. Therefore: This review is spoiler free.
After the end credits have rolled to their last second and the lights in the cinema that is currently taken over by the Zurich Film Festival have gone up again, I sigh and say «Wow». It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie quite like this one. And I say this having watched the 1982 movie in preparation for this one over the weekend. I watched the Final Cut, mind you, because that’s the version that follows Ridley Scott’s vision of the movie most closely.
It is that vision that had me worried before I’ve seen «Blade Runner 2049». In «Blade Runner» Ridley Scott had a very distinct vision and has created a rich world that is not only futuristic but also plausible. In 2049, Ridley Scott is no longer attached as director and the movie is helmed by Denis Villeneuve. Would Villeneuve destroy this vision? Not at all. The man who delivered movies such as «Arrival» or «Sicario» makes the fact that it’s no longer Ridley Scott the movie’s greatest strength. «Blade Runner 2049» is most definitely a movie set in the Blade Runner universe and it couldn’t exist anywhere else. Yet it feels completely different and tells a completely original story.
Villeneuve knows exactly where the roots of the movie are and he imitates some scenes from the first part scene by scene. The scene in which Deckard walks into the police station has been redone starring Ryan Gosling. The intro of the 1982 movie is being redone and fit into a new context. Whenever Villeneuve picks up elements, shots or scenes from 2049’s predecessor, he makes sure to give the scenes new context and thus twisting them into something unforeseen and new. They never seem bland or like reheated coffee but they gain new meaning.
In addition to that, the movie has a lot of references to other installments in the rather sparsely populated Blade Runner franchise. The most obvious nod to the past, namely 1997’s Blade Runner video game, is one character that looks an awful lot like Lucy.
Given the structure and the plot of «Blade Runner 2049», this is not a coincidence. Just like the entire movie, nothing seems out of place or not deliberately put exactly where it is seen in the movie.
One core element has been left unchanged, though: All the characters in «Blade Runner 2049» present themselves as emotionally cold and distant. Just like Deckard and Rachael (Sean Young) manage to have a duel of words without any inflection in the 1982 movie, Ryan Gosling’s character talks to his beloved in the most aloof way possible. That beloved, by the way, is the only one to display emotions openly. And there’s a good reason for that.
The emotions in this film are, just like in many great Hollywood films, not necessarily found on screen but in the heads of the audience. Even if Ryan Gosling rarely as much as smiles, the audience knows exactly what he’s feeling at any given moment. This way, the emotional punchlines of the movie hit home and the world on screen seems to escape its confines. I am in the middle of it all.
The only thing that doesn’t quite seem to fit is Jared Leto’s character. The writers of the movie appear to have been unsure about what to to do or where to go with the character. His motives are left unclear and we don’t really get to know who he is. All these things are made perfectly clear with every other character, be it by their actions or by virtue of exposition. Just Leto’s character seems lacking. Of course, sooner or later he babbles something that could resemble a motivation, but all that does, is leave a weird taste behind and raised eyebrows. Luckily, all the other characters make up for his lacking, even his taciturn aide.
All in all, Blade Runner stays true and also manages to re-invent itself at the same time. The decision to let someone other than Ridley Scott direct the movie is probably the best decision the producers of «Blade Runner 2049» could have made. Villeneuve understands Blade Runner, just like the actors on screen.
Go watch it. Please. The movie is amazing.
Oh, by the way, to finish this off: Gaff (Edward James Olmos) still knows way more than he lets on. If you’re interested, I’ll happily write down who Gaff is and why he is probably the best character of both movies.
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