Blade Runner 2049: Intelligent, Entertaining & Easily One of the Best Films of 2017

Blade Runner 2049 Plot Summary:

After being outlawed due to violent rebellions, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has designed replicants that are completely obedient. Due to the continued presence of past defective models, the need for Blade Runners still exist. After hunting down a rogue replicant, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) discovers an anomaly that could have major ramifications for humans and replicants.

This is the movie Prometheus should have been. This is high-minded science fiction, but still entertaining, and with actual characters. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone considering who the director is. Last year, Denis Villeneuve gave us Arrival, a complex, brilliant movie about the simple art of communication. With Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve was given a massive upgrade in budget, an elite cast and a crew that includes future Oscar winner, Roger Deakins (We’ll get to that later). Here’s the bottom-line: Much like the original film from thirty years ago, I’ll be thinking about this one for a long, long time.

Blade Runner 2049 brings film back to its bare essentials. Every element of filmmaking, from screenplay to acting to all the technical aspects are so perfectly crafted, it almost erases from your memory any bad movie you may have seen this year. Much of that credit goes to Denis Villeneuve. He’s the architect. What impressed me most though was how damn good the story was.

While I detest Prometheus, I respect it for trying to do something grand. At the end of the day though, it’s just an empty vessel that says nothing. Blade Runner 2049 is the anti-Prometheus. Right from the start, they hit you with a whammy. From that point on, you are completely immersed in this story. This is a science fiction detective tale you ferociously want to keeping digging through. What makes this movie truly work though isn’t just the airtight screenplay. Not only do you want to know the answers, but you desperately want the characters to know the answers, specifically Ryan Gosling’s Officer K.

What makes a great acting performance is when nobody else could have played the role.  That’s Ryan Gosling in this movie. Nobody else could have done what he did, not even Leonardo DiCaprio. Gosling’s performance as K is so specific, just as it was in Drive.  Gosling is cold and intense as you’d expect, but it’s when the character is forced to go to places that are out of his wheel house. That’s where Gosling really knocks you on your ass.  There’s one sequence in particular where K learns this big revelation, and Gosling’s acting is simply incredible. I know he won’t get nominated for an Oscar here, but dammit, he really should for that one scene.

As great as the story is, the movie takes time for actual character development. Early on, we get a great sense of who K is, especially in his interactions with Ana de Armas’ character, Joi. She’s essential, and works well in tandem with Gosling.

As you would imagine, all the performances here are top notch. While Jared Leto isn’t in the film a ton, he makes his presence known, playing a real uncomfortable creep bag. We can finally flush that Joker debacle down the toilet. Speaking of creep bags, we get Sylvia Hoeks, who’s completely bonkers, but really damn good at it. She’s a wildly entertaining character. Robin Wright is Robin Wright. She’s just awesome, and is basically the hard-boiled police chief. While those are the standouts, there’s plenty of great bit players who pop in and out, such as Barkhad Abdi, and Carla Juri, who plays a very crucial role.

Let’s get to the man himself though. In our Pregame column, I said Harrison Ford would be the scene stealer (I know, real bold call there) because his moments would be the most impactful. I was dead right on that one. Ford was outstanding. He’s the same old, cold Deckard, but you can tell this movie really cared about the original film. There was always a subtlety about Deckard where he wanted to break out of that cold shell. It’s there front and center in this film. It gives Deckard’s last scene in this movie that much more emotional resonance. He was used beautifully in this film.

As we’re talking about a Blade Runner movie, the technical aspects must be discussed.  You can start engraving all the Oscars Mad Max: Fury Road won. This movie makes Avatar look like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. This is one of the most impressive looking films I’ve ever seen. And let’s just get this out of the way right now: It’s over. The end. Lock it up. Done. Roger Deakins won for Best Cinematography. Let me put it this way – if he loses, then Deakins must be the biggest jerk in all of Hollywood.

It’s not just the look of the film, but the way everything is shot. You experience all sorts of camera angles here. It is the look of Blade Runner 2049 though that sticks out because you get every type of environment there is. Futuristic city. Desert wastelands. Snow. Trash heaps. Expensive looking hotel lobbies. Part of the reason you never feel the length is because at the very least, every frame is offering something interesting.

That leads me to my one big complaint. While I never felt the movie was too long, it took a while to get to certain moments. For example, even though the movie offers plenty of great twists and turns, there would be something we knew was coming, but it took forever to get there. There’s a point where Ryan Gosling is walking towards something. We know what he’s about to uncover, so let’s just get to it. There were definitely times it dilly-dallied.

The original also had a charm about it that this movie lacks to some extent. It doesn’t have those eccentric villains like Batty or Pris, or even schmucks like Deckard’s superior officer, Bryant. This film is a bit more polished, which is a slight negative. Some of the old music is incorporated though, and they even have a new Voight-Kampff-esque test.

It goes without saying this is one of the best films of the year. Not only is the story intelligent, but it packs a true emotional punch. And even though I’m not ready to say it’s better than the original, it has the same effect. It’s a movie I’ll be digging through for years to come.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.