I don’t even know how to begin to do this. This is the most difficult piece I’ve ever had to write. Because here’s my issue. I am currently faced with a dichotomy of wanting to explain just how sensational this movie is while knowing I’ll never be able to do it justice and realizing that I will be incapable of keeping my personal emotions out of this review. So let’s look at it this way. I’m going to do my best to criticize this film, but this is mainly going to be a place for me to describe the experience I’ve just had. Because, and I can say this with utmost confidence, this film changed my life.
I go to the movie theater for multiple reasons. I love watching movies, I feel comfort whenever the lights go down, I enjoy seeing the variety in storytelling. But there is one reason that seems to pervade its way into my subconscious more than any other. I am not, by nature, a very emotionally present person. So I find myself watching movies in order to feel things that I can’t always conjure up myself. You see Film is, at its core, the most personal medium of art humanity has ever conceived. If you do it right, you can portray a slice of the human experience with such realism and intimacy that it is as if you were living it yourself. This is the mark of a true filmmaker. Someone who can get unfettered emotion out of his actors and the camera and translate it in such a way that it impacts everyone in the audience. It is my personal opinion to say that Denis Villeneuve has crafted an experience here that is unrivaled by any of its contemporaries. Blade Runner 2049 picked me up, threw me against the wall, and had me begging for more.
The story takes place in a dystopian future. The year is 2049, as you probably worked out for yourself, transpiring exactly thirty years after the events of the first one. Replicants, genetically engineered slaves that look and act like humans, still exist but have been adapted and controlled to be far more stable than they were in the original. Bladerunners still exist and are still tasked with tracking down the rogue older replicants and “retiring” them. The crux of the story revolves around our protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling, who is, himself, one of the new generation of Replicants. Everything he thought he knew is flipped on its head, however, when he is tasked with a job that conflicts with his moral fiber, something he didn’t even know he had. There have been plenty of stories in the past with an emotionless main character, many of which have been done to great success, but none of them have been done to this effect. The absolute brilliant subtlety with which Gosling approached this role is staggering beyond words. Unfortunately for him, last year another actor delivered a brilliantly subtle performance in a Sci-Fi film directed by Denis Villeneuve and was completely shafted by the Academy. But that’s okay, we’ve all moved on. (We haven’t moved on.)
Gosling is joined by a magnificent supporting cast. Ana De Armas brings something to the table that has pretty much never been done before. Robin Wright and Sylvia Hoeks provide a fascinating polarity, and Jared Leto delivers an iconically Jared Leto performance. But what had me blown away was Harrison Ford, at 75 years old, delivering the best work of his entire life. It was just elating to see him not only be awake but nuanced and indisputably heartbreaking. As far as I’m concerned, this movie improved upon its predecessor in every feasible way. Granted, there are some people who view the first Blade Runner to be a gift from God. I am not that person. I like the original; I think it’s a very well-directed and creative movie-but to me, Villeneuve’s creation here is nothing short of a masterpiece. He runs the gamut on every possible emotion that can be perceived, taking the time to pause and note the intricacies of every scenario he presented. It’s true Sci-Fi, creating a realm that is fascinating and outlandish, while still being a believable course of events. And don’t even get me started on Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Basically, if any frame of this movie were presented at an art auction, the proceeds could feed a family of four for a year.
If you thought Mad Max: Fury Road swept at the Oscars, you are not fully prepared. This movie is going to win every single technical award on the ballot. And deservedly so, as it pushed the boundaries in ways that have never been attempted before. The special effects are beyond breathtaking. Thinking back on it, there was not a single solitary cell in this opus that didn’t look 100% real. The set design is phenomenal. There were shots in this film where I was looking at a set and thinking, “how on earth did a person conceive this, and then proceed to actually construct it?” And then there’s the sound. The sound! This movie has the best sound design out of any movie made in the 21st century. Hands down. It’s everything, from the artisinally engineered sound effects to the atmospheric ambient noise, to the absolute world-ending score from Hanz Zimmer. In all, Zimmer’s body of work can kind of blend together, but this is a mic drop if I’ve ever seen one. Like, you know that infamous game where Babe Ruth called his shot before hitting it out of the park? That is what this score is. But in all honesty, that’s how this entire film feels.
Here’s the deal. I’m not going to try to describe to you why this film affected me so. To be honest, even I don’t know what happened in that movie theater. What I do know for a fact is I sat through the credits bawling my eyes out, having been thoroughly shaken to my core. And, if you want to write this review off as, “whatever dude, he’s not taking this seriously. He’s letting his emotions drive his perception of the film and not the merits of the filmmaking,” I won’t disagree with you. Nor will I disagree with you if you say you didn’t like this movie. Or if you say you thought it was good, but not that good. Because that’s the beauty of film, baby. It’s subjective, and beautiful, and messy, and can leave you sputtering in your seat or shouting for your money back. It can stir things inside of you that you can’t explain, and leave you positively hungry for more. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t think about a movie. It’s your experience, so own it. Don’t let people bully you into thinking you’re stupid for not liking Blade Runner or thinking you’re pretentious for enjoying it. I thank the heavens that I get to be a movie critic simply because I love watching movies, and I want to share that love with the world. It’s not every day that I get to exit the theater with a reinvigorated passion for the art form. And when and if that ever happens again, you better believe I’ll be right here, telling you just how much it means to me.
All images are from Blade Runner 2049, a film by Warner Bros.