Review: Villeneuve's 'Blade Runner 2049' is Emotionally Affecting, Artificially Intelligent

October 5, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Based on the Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction thriller, Blade Runner, introduced audiences to a dystopian future where synthetic humans, known as Replicants, are bio-engineered for use in off-world colonization. When these Replicants go rogue, special police units called Blade Runners hunt down and "retire" them. Despite its initial lukewarm critical and commercial reception, Blade Runner has become one of the most influential movies of the last 40 years, pioneering what became an entirely new genre: neo-noir cyberpunk. 35 years later, thanks to subsequent releases like the 1992 Director's Cut and the definitive 2007 Final Cut, Scott's film is now heralded as a groundbreaking visionary masterpiece and one of the most important motion pictures ever made. Now, another visionary filmmaker, the Oscar-nominated Denis Villeneuve, attempts to honor the original film while expanding its influence with a sequel, the highly anticipated Blade Runner 2049.

Directed from a screenplay written by Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (of Logan, Alien: Covenant), Blade Runner 2049 picks up thirty years after the events of the first film. A new Blade Runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), is on assignment when he unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to send what's left of society into chaos. This startling revelation leads K on a journey to find Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who's been missing for 30 years. In the process, K’s detective work earns the attention of Replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who sends his devoted assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to acquire K’s target before he does. Normally, I would provide a few additional details on the plot, but the publicist at the press screening conveyed an important message from Villeneuve asking us to avoid discussing specifics about the story and its characters. Respecting Villeneuve’s wishes, I will keep things as vague as possible.

Blade Runner 2049 Review

What I can say about Blade Runner 2049 is that it takes everything Scott was attempting with his ambitious feature and improves upon it by imbuing impressive visuals with interesting characters and a story that is intellectually engaging and, more importantly, emotionally affecting. For all its influence in terms of world-building and special effects, I've never really cared for Scott's original movie. It's too much like a Replicant — a cold, synthetic representation of humanity that somehow convincingly conveys emotions, but doesn't fully understand them. I certainly respect the craftsmanship of conceptual artist Syd Mead, production designer Lawrence G. Paull, art director David Snyder, and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, but the iconic imagery doesn't make up for a surface-level story that leans on ambiguity to give the appearance of deeper meaning. The 2007 Final Cut is my preferred version, but even it can't accomplish the colossal task of making me give a damn about Deckard.

This is thankfully not the case with Villeneuve's sequel. Every character, from Dave Bautista's Sapper Morton to Robin Wright's Lt. Joshi to Ana de Armas' Joi, is remarkably human, even if they aren't. Even Leto, who I often find unpalatable, is convincing in his role. As the soft-spoken Niander Wallace, Leto delivers an understated performance that exudes arrogance and ambition without chewing the scenery. As for Gosling, the La La Land star provides a moving, measured turn as a lonely man in search of something greater. He's got chemistry with every member of the ensemble, and his interactions with the story's various characters reveal different aspects of his character in a way we never got with Deckard in the original.

Speaking of Ford, when the grizzled veteran reprised the roles of Indiana Jones in 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Han Solo in 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he was slipping back into the old clothes of characters who were immediately recognizable as icons. By comparison, there isn't much going on with the character of Deckard. He's the hardboiled detective in a film noir — a cynical man's man whose dogged persistence is his only distinguishable trait. When we catch up with him in Blade Runner 2049, he's been through the ringer. Instead of playing the tough guy, Ford gives Deckard much-needed dimensionality by playing him as a man past his prime, haunted by tragedy, but ready to earn his redemption. You feel the weight of his age — the years of solitude he's endured — and the vastness of his loss. It's a standout performance in a movie filled with great performances.

Blade Runner 2049 Review

Another great performance comes from legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (currently with 13 Oscar nominations but no win yet), who expands upon the original film's stunning imagery in new and exciting ways. Like John Seale's work on Mad Max: Fury Road, Deakins' masterful use of light and shadow, of color and texture, captures this dystopian future so beautifully, you wish the world would end so you could see it firsthand. 2049 marks the third collaboration between Villeneuve and Deakins, following Sicario and Prisoners, for which Deakins received two of his 13 Oscar nominations. Rest assured, Blade Runner 2049 will be his 14th nomination, and maybe – hopefully – his first win. Equally exquisite are the production and costume designs by Dennis Gassner and Renée April who, like Villeneuve and Deakins, are committed to remaining faithful to what came before while exploring new, uncharted territory.

Despite its 163-minute runtime, Blade Runner 2049 moves at a steady clip and doesn't get bogged down by the kind of drawn-out dialogue scenes that make the original feel so protracted and ponderous. It isn't action-packed, but it's never boring because you're invested in the characters and the mystery they're trying to solve. It's still very much a movie where you feel the length, but it doesn't feel as laborious as the original, which is considerably shorter (117 minutes). If there's an issue with Villeneuve's latest, it's that it's too obvious about its various reveals and revelations. If its predecessor was a Replicant trying to feel like a human, the sequel is a human trying to think like a robot. It tries to outsmart you with its twists and turns, but its brain isn't as big as its heart. The predictability doesn't take away from the enjoyment of Villeneuve's work, however. I would much rather have a Blade Runner follow-up that is more thoughtful and affecting than cold, cynical and calculating.

Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 is a soulful work of human sensitivity at the height of digital art that elevates the original film in ways I didn't think possible. It invites the audience to not only analyze, but empathize, and that is exactly what we need more of right now.

Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier

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Sounds just as boring and pointless as the original.

Jimmy Hauser on Oct 5, 2017


still infinitely more interesting and fun than you are - at least people actually like these movies

DanielShaw on Oct 5, 2017


Your comments are boring and pointless.

Sascha Dikiciyan on Oct 5, 2017


The only boring and pointless movie I would watch on loop. ;D

tarek on Oct 6, 2017


Just saw it last night. And i must say... I have to see it again. I agree somewhat with the review. Loved every minute of it. Was invested in the characters fully. All of them. And that's really hard to achieve. The first half of the movie delivers really deeply layered dialogs, sub-texted with thought provoking innuendos from literature that spans accross a millennium. Something that millenials would surely miss. The other half of the movie, as it was building up for the action sequences. Started to show some plot holes that were hard to understand or explain. But non the less. It's a movie that keeps your brain working while feeding you with eye candy. Definitely worth a second watch.

Alpivan on Oct 5, 2017


"f drawn-out dialogue scenes that make the original feel so protracted and ponderous." Sorry - again I cannot take this review seriously after reading stuff like that.

Sascha Dikiciyan on Oct 5, 2017


Thanks for stoppin' by!

Adam Frazier on Oct 6, 2017


If Roger Deakins doesn't get the Oscar for cinematography, the Academy will have completely lost what little credibility they have...

TheOct8pus on Oct 6, 2017



deerosa on Oct 6, 2017


This movie was perfect for me. I could have watched 20 more minutes of this groundbreaking film. Denis was smart to weave his style with some of the original style peppered in. The soundtrack was also great. Deakins is utterly ridiculous. Surprisingly for me the only weak point was Jared Leto....I thought his performance was just o.k. Again, surprising. I was taken back to this beautiful world in glorious IMAX and the conversion looked great! 5.5 out of 5 🙂 If you are a true fan of the original film the cameos will hit you in the gut....

deerosa on Oct 6, 2017


Yeah, Leto's a bit underwritten - wish he had more to do, but it's nice that Luv has more than a couple amazing scenes in his place.

Adam Frazier on Oct 6, 2017


True Adam, wish I could speak on a couple of amazing scenes in this flick but I do not want to spoil it for anyone.

deerosa on Oct 6, 2017


Seeing next Tuesday! I'll be back to read Adam! Really happy you enjoyed it!

Brandon Cole on Oct 6, 2017


Oh baby! I want to see this so bad.

DAVIDPD on Oct 6, 2017


Maybe Bautista was right... it is better than the original. kudos to him

oliveitor on Oct 6, 2017



Adam Frazier on Oct 6, 2017


A cult classic who gets a classic as a sequel, thats very rare. Villeneuve is just as gifted as Christopher Nolan..

ari smulders on Oct 6, 2017


Christopher Nolan will be never as good as Villeneuve is. Nolan is way too calculative. Yes, two different styles of directing, two different approaches. But still, Nolan has knowledge of style (where lies all of his depth) while Villeneuve has that and than sense of narrative depth in what he does. Which is something Nolan will never achieve. Of course, this counts only as my opinion ...

shiboleth on Oct 7, 2017


Hmmm, let me think about it. I see what you mean...

ari smulders on Oct 7, 2017


"...sense of narrative depth...which is something Nolan will never achieve." Oh dear. The Prestige, Memento, Insomnia, Inception... Please describe why you think these films have no "narrative depth". Just because Nolan happens to have done some big, stylish, effects-driven films in recent years, does not now mean his films lack narrative. It is possible to have both style, and narrative. Let's not fall into the trap of bashing one great director, to fawn over another. Villeneuve isn't perfect either. Arrival has it's moments of cheese, just as Interstellar does. And I'd sooner rewatch The Prestige than Enemy. Let's be thankful that both of these guys are fans of serious, hard sci-fi, and have been aiming so high (and largely succeeding) with their work.

foreigncontaminant on Oct 8, 2017


Well, I remain very much with my statement about narrative depth. Nolan simply will never be as good as Villeneuve is with that. But I didn't want to say that Nolan is not a craftsman. He very much is. For me, that mostly goes if Memento and Prestige are considered to be the peak of his films. The rest of his work, not so much. In a very subtle way, with Nolan I see something that happens so many times and is usually mentioned as a problem of style over substance. The last film, Dunkirk, is a longest music video I've seen. For me, of course, But then again, I still think that his work exceeds what most of Hollywood does and I am still very much prepared to see his films. I just think Villeneuve is doing it better. And cares much more about the narrative. Yeah, it might just be about different tastes. So, yes, I agree, let's be thankful for their works. In fact, let's be thankful that they give us something to think and to enjoy subtler nuances in film and between their work. Cheers ...

shiboleth on Oct 15, 2017


I'm pretty much going to echo Adam's sentiments as well. I appreciate the original for the world building, visuals and the moral quandary of replicants and what they represent. I don't think it's a good movie, as it's EXTREMELY slow and the performances are wooden (for good reason maybe?). It broke ground in 1982 and 2049 is building off that foundation. The cinematography was fantastic, the sound (or lack there of) was some of the best use in a film I've witnessed in a long time. But overall, the performances and story is what drove this film for me. It's high art sci-fi and it respected my intellect. I was really impressed and I can't wait to watch it again- the level of detail is vast.

THE_RAW_ on Oct 7, 2017


Bo, he said he respected the film, but it doesn't resonate with him. And for one to compare two films, both films should actually have been seen to offer a fair critique. Have you seen 2049 also? Sometimes the trailers don't do films justice and this was one those instances where I didn't think this would be worth anything based on the trailers. However, Villenevue's previous offerings of Sicario and The Arrival should be an indication of the quality and attention that was put into 2049. He delivers. Also, I know you're a fan of eye candy and Ana De Armas doesn't disappoint either. One of the strongest aspects of the film.

THE_RAW_ on Oct 7, 2017


I wasn't trying to "defend" Adam, I simply sympathized with his viewpoint as it was the one I shared and I wanted to ensure you fully realized it. I appreciate you explaining yourself though. I'm aware of your film background and experience to draw off of, I just think you're writing this film off a bit too abruptly. Judging a film by it's cover/marketing/PR etc. And perhaps you'll be right in your assessment when you see it, but there's also the off chance you may enjoy it and perhaps underestimate it. I know I did. And I've never met another human who claims they're right 100% of the time and you strike me as a reasonable enough fellow to not fall in that obtuse line of logic. Thanks for the lively discussion, Bo! Take care Mr. Enigma.

THE_RAW_ on Oct 7, 2017


This thread...represents the reason I love coming to FS. Saw the movie last night and the first thing I wanted to do was read a FS review and read some FS opinions. Great perspectives all. And DEAKINS? Pfff. The dude is a craftsman. Expanded on what Cronenweth did and just it made it beautiful. One of the best shot films Ive ever seen. Im glad this is the first film from Villeneuve Ive ever seen. Going to catch up on his library pronto.

Duane on Oct 7, 2017


Wholeheartedly agree. Most of the banter is civil and respectful...MOST of the time. I'd recommend watching Sicario then Arrival. I've never seen Enemy or Prisoners so can't recommend them.

THE_RAW_ on Oct 10, 2017


Well,interesting film anyway which makes the first one (no, not the original, that would be the book from the Shakespeare of SF; Philp K. Dick) less interesting. But still, the first one is not to be dismissed as not so good one. In fact, they are two different films, two different approaches to the whole narrative. For the moment, and maybe not only for a moment, I'm very much in favor of Villeneuve's version. It says a lot about today's humanity and its misconception of life and society. It touches some kind of limbo today's world is persisting without some good solution for its problems. Acting ensemble is very good, camera work is exquisite and the sound landscape made by music in it makes the film very intensive and engaging experience. I am very glad I watched it in the movie theater. I recommend to everyone...

shiboleth on Oct 7, 2017


I think I might skip this one. No matter how many times I've seen the original I've always found it a little tedious. Cool music but the endless steam and rain and dreary looking future could not compensate for an unengaging story. I enjoyed Prisoners and Sicario was okay but Arrival really was pretentious art wank masquerading as 'intelligent sci fi'. Hence I don't have faith in the source material or the director.

Payne by name on Oct 7, 2017


I'm pretty much of the opinion that if you don't like the first one....this one matches the tone so perfectly that it is very likely that you'll find it just as tedious. I'm on the fence about both of them...but I appreciate the craft of both of them. Looking at them as one film (tedious as it might be) is seamless.

Duane on Oct 7, 2017


I think a lot of us true geeks love the original BR because of the world it created. We take it for granted now because so many films have stolen from it. This new film really surprised me. It's as good as it's RT rating suggests. The big thing I took away from this film is that IT IS POSSIBLE for a great sequel to be made in Hollywood! Great cast, story moves things forward while keeping the style of the original, no overused CGI, a great ending. Just awesome. A real masterpiece. Now let's see this Villeneuve dude direct a new Batman film! 🙂

darthwhitey on Oct 10, 2017


I have a love/dislike relationship with this film. I love: -even if you didn't watch the first Blade Runner, this movie stands on its own. -it captivated the world in the first movie x elevated it! Making it easier to be immersed in for viewers, not saying the first movie wasn't but I myself had to watch that one a couple times before being so. -watching the relationship between K x Joi, Dave Bautista needed more screentime (more than Jared Leto-useless character honestly), x Luv was badass! I dislike: -while it's a visual feast for sure, honestly the story is left to be desired. I mean it's there ha but it's dragged out so thinly. Which is Denis Villeneuve style but it doesn't work here as much, only in some scenes it felt right. -how it just ran away with the themes from the first movie instead of tackling them. Again 2049 is its own thing in this world but it's missing the soul that the first film captivated about this world. Overall, it is a nice addition x a god damn majestic shot film to see which kept me locked in! 3.8 out of 5 stars for me.

Brandon Cole on Oct 11, 2017


Just wanted to collectively agree with the exceptional concept and portrayal between K & Joi. Completely original and cinematically masterful.

97point6 on Oct 11, 2017


i wanna see it again using my boxxy software just to hear the music at the end and reading my favorite phrases at the subtitle

Andre Alonso on Aug 1, 2018

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