SPOILERS for both Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and Blade Runner (1982).
Let me start off with a mini-review of the original. Initially, the movie received bad reviews from critics and the public alike for being a snooze-fest (which it was). I’ve watched The Final Cut which was released in the 21st century (and yes it was on Blu-ray). So if a movie took five cuts to get a good critical and public score, then basically Justice League will get a positive score in 25 years or so.
Moving on to Blade Runner 2049.
The Good: 1. The cinematography by Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Sicario) is not only top-grade but the best cinematography I’ve seen this year. I will defend the original Blade Runner on this point that when I watched it I was amazed that a 1982 film looked more futuristic than similar genre features of the 90s. Amazing visuals for both films. Here, in BR 2049, each and every location was shot as if showcasing the hard work behind it. Another film that is a close contender for the best-looking film is The Last Jedi, but for me TLJ will remain second in cinematography as BR 2049’s Deakins has bettered all his previous credits. It comes as no surprise that the last film he worked was Hail, Caesar! (2016) and that is similarly breath-taking to look at despite the film being of a genre where the performers’ looks matter more than the movie. The set pieces, props, locations, etc are to die for. It’s aesthetically the best feature of 2017. Again, Blade Runner 2049 is what The Ghost in the Shell (2017) would’ve looked like if Deakins had worked on it.
2. Lack of reliance on the prequel/not many flashbacks needed: BR 2049 came after more than 30 years since BR. I expected the film to start off with flashbacks or a tedious narration. Despite these expectations, I was blown away by how little BR 2049 borrowed from the original. Yes, we have similar-looking environments, weapons, vehicles, holograms, etc. But this is just like Lucas had pictured his prequel trilogy to be. There were a lot of indirect tributes to the original though I fail to recall exactly the scenes which paid homage as I’m not an admirer of the first part.
3. Almost no emphasis on music: Similar to that year’s Dunkirk, BR 2049 does not rely on an overdone score. Instead both Dunkirk and this rely on the most subtlest of sound effects. The sound effects of both movies helped elevate the level of suspense and action even when these features weren’t at their most profound.
4. Semi-predictability: Most would assume I should’ve listed this in The Bad section. But if you’ve watched over a 100 movies, even a semi-predictable sci-fi venture becomes unpredictable after watching it. I did not see the final twist coming but that does not mean I didn’t guess 50% of the movie’s conclusion in the opening 30 minutes.
5. Direction: When I first heard of a Blade Runner sequel, I wasn’t impressed. But when I found out Denis Villeneuve is attached to direct, my 0% expectations went up 50%. I thought he had gone beyond the sci-fi genre with the best sci-fi film of last year, Arrival (2016). I previously loved his direction of Sicario (2015) and eagerly await the 2018 sequel. Blade Runner 2049 is officially his magnum opus. I am eager to see a superior spectacle filmed by him, regardless of the genre. If Villeneuve on the helm, like he was here, I bet even Ridley Scott couldn’t have directed a film of this timeless quality.
6. The flick’s relevance to present times: Why are movies like I, Robot, Surrogates still being made? Haven’t we come to terms with technology. Isn’t VR the next big thing; especially in regards to gaming? Has social media actually made us more social or more anti-social? These are the questions that many 21st century sci-fi movies ask but don’t seem to ask properly. Blade Runner (1982) tried it but failed due to lack of execution. The Circle (2017) tried it this year but failed on a colossal scale; sure Emma Watson and Tom Hanks weren’t the creative minds behind it, but talk about a movie you watch for the actors but ends up being a total failure. It has my nomination for Worst Film of 2017. Give that film a Razzie, would ya?
Furthermore, BR 2049 is actually a flick you’d like more when you come to terms with your own existence. Sometimes, I felt that the screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green read Nietzsche’s philosophy before writing the script, because every minute of it is filled with symbolism of existentialism. BR 2049 will make you question your existence more than when you have a mid-life crisis. It will also make you question how did Michael Green go from the co-writer to Green Lantern (2011) to the writer of Logan (2017) and Blade Runner 2049. Started from the bottom and now we’re here!
The Bad: 1. It’s too big! In this case it’s too long, the film’s length is further made worse by its crappy pacing. A 2h 44min running time! Even JL shortened it to 2 hours. Well, this sequel could’ve at least improved on the factor that made its prequel so underwhelming to audiences in the theater. I’ve also heard that BR 2049 flopped in similar fashion to its prequel. Again, BR 2049 being a commercial disappointment should come as no surprise. This film would’ve been more of a commercial success as a novel or a TV series. It would’ve been adapted on-screen eventually owing to almost every bestseller sharing identical fates nowadays.
The Verdict: What makes BR 2049 one of the best flicks of 2017? It’s one of those rare sequels that surpasses its predecessor, that too, on a tremendous scale. Just like the Richard Donner cut of Superman 2 is considered the better of the theatrical version, in similar fashion, BR 2049 took 35 years to see the light of day, but it has also opened up our eyes, that without criticizing long-awaited remakes/reboots/sequels after watching the trailer, we should at least see who is attached to the project and what creative genius they can bring to the table.
Ridley Scott gave us a nostalgic Alien film with this year’s Alien Covenant. But the guy is a has-been now of sci-fi showcases after his disastrous Prometheus and Alien flicks. But he might make a comeback in other genres with the newly released All the Money in the World.
The finishing blow is that BR 2049 didn’t rely on an ultra-reliance on nostalgia like The Force Awakens (2015). Instead it relied on Ezra Pound’s statement that helped pushed the Modernist movement forward in the 20th century: “Make it new!”
On a side note, I’d recommend watching BR 2049 then BR. Also, you don’t have to watch BR to comprehend this so I’ve just saved you from watching a 1982 film set in 2019, so you can watch a film set 32 years in the future.