The trouble with belated sequels – such as the nearly 20-year delay on Indiana Jones’s follow-up, or even the more-than-10-year gap between “Star Wars” sequels/prequels – is that often filmmakers aspire to capture the original flair of the source material while disregarding purpose. Filmmakers forfeit quality for novelty.
“Blade Runner 2049” is the rare exception. Director Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the 1982 noir cult classic could be considered a stand-alone masterpiece that doesn’t exploit the original, but rather realizes the initial vision. Though the movie often seems slow (much like the original), compelling performances and stunning cinematography solidify Villeneuve’s place as one of the greatest directors in the industry.
The themes explored in the first “Blade Runner” are expanded in different ways through this latest installment. Humanity and identity are still the driving point of conversation. However, instead of focusing primarily on unknown factors to fuel the characters, Villeneuve chooses to focus on what is known, often even spoiling developing mystery for the sake of focus.
This can often make otherwise compelling developments in the plot seem dull, which the film counterbalances with a few exciting moments. The film’s more action-packed moments do excel, however briefly.
The characters also grip the audience, with a few surprising exceptions. Again, Villeneuve sacrifices substance for purpose, with lead Ryan Gosling’s character, Officer K. Like many characters Gosling has portrayed in the past, Officer K is often very plain. The actor’s performance shines only in subtle moments. Even Harrison Ford’s return to the role of Rick Deckard seems too simplistic at times, leaving out his character’s key personality from the previous film.
Really, the most notable performance can be accredited to Sylvia Hoeks’s Luv. In contrast to Gosling’s distant persona, Hoeks portrays the (arguably primary) antagonist as hyper-emotional and erratic, while retaining a sympathetic tie to the audience. Her performance is complimented by Jared Leto’s performance as god-complex mastermind Niander Wallace, consistently unsettling in the role.
The world created is a thrill to experience. Cinematographer Roger Deakins’s capture of the predominantly practical-effects set is breathtaking. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack sets an uneasy tone that perfectly blends hyper-complicated, avant-garde electronica and nostalgic synth. The two sounds effectively drag the audience into a specific environment that is frequently compelling and fascinating.
Though not truly the blockbuster to entertain the masses, Blade Runner 2049 is a stunning piece of art put to purpose that it thoroughly delivers on. The film pays notable homage to its predecessor while retaining its artistic integrity in a manner both entertaining and compelling for moviegoers.