Blade Runner 2049 is as Good as Belated Sequels Get

Confession time: the first time I saw Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, I didn’t much care for it. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

This could be because I saw it on TV and it was probably edited to some extent. This could also be because the version I saw was the original theatrical version, which most fans of the film agree to be inferior to later versions. But I think the most likely reason of all was that it did not conform to my expectations. I expected a rollicking, action-packed thrill ride. What I got instead was a dark, moody, slow-burning sci-fi noir. It wasn’t what I wanted at the time, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now. Scott’s Blade Runner is a stone-cold classic and has been hugely influential on generations of filmmakers and writers.

The idea of a sequel coming out some 35 years after the release of the original film could lead to understandable skepticism. We all know what happened with that last Indiana Jones movie, after all. But I am happy to say that the new film, Blade Runner 2049, is an excellent sequel. People have called it one of the best sequels ever made, and it’s hard to disagree.

Image: Warner Bros.

The new movie was directed by the brilliant French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. I haven’t seen all of his films, but the ones I have seen (Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival) were all excellent. Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today, and he has delivered another near-masterpiece with Blade Runner 2049.

Villeneuve’s film stays true to Scott’s beloved original in tone, style, and content. The cinematographer was the great Roger Deakins, and the movie looks amazing. It brilliantly recaptures the iconic look of the original movie while also providing new environments and landscapes that fit right in with the world these films have created. If Deakins doesn’t finally win an Oscar for his work on this film, then the Academy Awards are officially Dead To Me.


Image: Warner Bros.

But aside from the eye-popping visuals, the film is rich in ideas and emotion. One of the main questions the original film presented was: what does it mean to be human? If it becomes possible to one day create synthetic beings so lifelike they’re virtually indistinguishable from real people, who’s to say those synthetic beings aren’t human? HBO’s Westworld recently pondered similar questions, and they’re as relevant and intriguing now as they were when the first movie was released in 1982.

Much has been made of Harrison Ford’s return to the world he helped create, although (this could be considered a minor spoiler) he doesn’t actually appear in the new movie until it is more than half over. Most of the movie rests on the shoulders of Ryan Gosling, and he is more than up to the task of carrying the film. Gosling’s performance here is superb and absolutely Oscar-worthy.


Image: Warner Bros.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick recap. The original movie took place in 2019, and followed Ford’s character Rick Deckard as he attempted to track down four rogue replicants. Replicants were created by the Tyrell Corporation to serve as off-world slave labor, but after a series of violent rebellions, they became outlawed. Blade Runners such as Deckard were cops who specialized in tracking down and “retiring” replicants.

Gosling’s character, known simply as K for most of the movie, is a Blade Runner hunting down replicants in 2049, thirty years after the events of the original film. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, since I really want to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say that K’s background is complex and is an integral part of the film’s plot. It becomes necessary for him to track down Deckard, who hasn’t been seen for thirty years. When we do finally meet Deckard, he’s tired and worn out. It’s some of the best acting Ford has done in recent years. He does a great job capturing Deckard’s cynicism and world-weariness, and is soulful and sympathetic.


Image: Warner Bros.

In addition to Deckard and K, the rest of the characters are equally fascinating. Robin Wright plays K’s no-bullshit boss Lieutenant Joshi, Jared Leto plays a creepy evil industrialist named Niander Wallace (who now owns the company that makes replicants and has made a fortune producing a new, more obedient series of replicants), and an actress named Sylvia Hoeks plays Wallace’s main henchwoman, disarmingly named Luv. Despite her name, she is not to be messed with, and provides a fierce adversary for K as he attempts to locate Deckard.

There’s also the lovely Cuban actress Ana de Armas as a character named Joi (pronounced like the word joy), who is, for lack of a better word, K’s companion. No, not that kind of companion. She offers him support and guidance despite, let’s just say, not being entirely human. I found the relationship between K and Joi to be quite fascinating, and genuinely moving at times.

There’s a lot more I could say about the plot, but I’m not going to because this is a movie you should experience for yourself. I will say that I loved the film’s plot. The filmmakers did an incredible job of telling a story that feels like a logical evolution of the original film, instead of just a flimsy excuse to make another movie and make more money. Blade Runner 2049 is a movie made with immense care and attention to detail. It feels completely faithful to the original.

I wouldn’t call either Blade Runner movie an action movie. Both movies are deliberately paced, and while there are fights and chases, the emphasis isn’t on the action scenes. Both films have a long way to go and are in no particular hurry to get there. The new movie is nearly three hours long, but it didn’t feel that long to me. It immediately sweeps the viewer up into the vivid world it creates, and it’s the kind of world that is thrilling to explore, but you probably wouldn’t want to live in it.

Every aspect of this movie is Oscar-worthy, from the production design to the writing to the acting to the directing to the special effects to the cinematography. Every one of those things from the first movie became iconic, and it’s easy to see the same thing happening with the new movie. Denis Villeneuve and his team did an incredible job crafting this film, and they have made Blade Runner 2049 every bit as emotionally resonant and thematically rich as its esteemed predecessor, which is no small feat.

Coming up next, in The Foreigner Jackie Chan will show us that it doesn’t matter if you’re in your sixties, you can still kick ass.

Sicario Means Hitman

It was a tense weekend for me at the movies last weekend. On Friday I saw Sicario, and on Sunday I saw The Martian. I spent most of the running times of both of these movies holding my breath. I’m planning on writing about both movies, and since I saw Sicario first I’m going to start with that.

Sicario opens with a gruesome scene that sets the stage for the rest of the film, and lets the audience know what kind of grim tale they are in for.

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An FBI hostage rescue team, led by Kate Macer (played by Emily Blunt), raids a house in Chandler, Arizona, looking for hostages. They find no hostages, but make a horrifying discovery. There are dozens of corpses hidden in the walls of the house, as well as explosives in a shed in the backyard, which detonate and kill two police officers.

Following this, Kate’s boss recommends her to Matt Graver (played by Josh Brolin) a Department of Defense advisor putting together a team of elite agents to go after the people responsible for the day’s atrocities. Kate agrees to join the team, and in so doing, falls headfirst into a rabbit hole deeper than she could have imagined.

Kate then meets Matt’s partner, the enigmatic Alejandro (played to chilling perfection by Benicio Del Toro) and is told that they’ll be going to El Paso.

Bet they don’t go to El Paso.

They go across the border, into Juarez, on a high-risk prisoner extraction mission.

Juarez is home to the Juarez Cartel, known for mutilating and decapitating their rivals and displaying the corpses in public areas to instill fear. The film shows this in all of its grisly glory, with bodies hanging from road signs and suspended from freeway overpasses. Sicario is a film that pulls no punches in depicting the violence inherent to its story, and is not for the faint of heart.

The film’s director, Denis Villeneuve, also directed Prisoners, a film I wrote about some time ago. Prisoners and Sicario share some thematic similarities, and neither of them are shy about depicting both grisly violence and the darker side of humanity.

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Both films are also nail-bitingly tense, and Villeneuve once again proves himself to be an expert at building suspense. The entire Juarez sequence is masterfully constructed, with every shot and every terse line of dialogue increasing the viewer’s heart rate. The sequence comes to an explosive climax at the border crossing going back into the States, where Kate and the other agents get stuck in the world’s worst traffic jam, and every car could potentially contain hostiles. The agents are handicapped by their rules of engagement, which dictate that they cannot fire unless fired upon, meaning that even when they spot people in some of the cars around them wielding rifles, they can’t do anything unless they are directly threatened.

The sequence is a masterpiece of suspense, with Kate and the other agents’ helplessness intensifying their predicament. The sequence ends with Kate questioning why she’s even there and appalled at the lack of concern for protocol and civilian safety. She starts asking questions, but she can’t get a straight answer from anyone. Not from Matt, not from any of the other agents, and certainly not from the taciturn Alejandro.

She tells her boss at the FBI that Matt and his team are operating outside the boundaries, but is told that they can’t do anything about it and she has to just play along. Matt tells her the same thing, and that the boundaries have expanded for her beyond what she was used to at the FBI. Matt tells her that this is her chance to finally make a difference. Kate is starting to get the impression that she’s bit off more than she can chew, and is even given the opportunity to walk away at one point. But she can’t, because she’s already invested too much of herself to walk out.

I’m not going to sugarcoat here: Sicario is a grim piece of work. It’s the kind of movie you walk out of needing a hug, and maybe a shower. But there are things along the way that make it a bit less punishing to watch, and one of those is the cinematography. The movie looks great, and it’s the kind of movie where nothing is wasted. Every shot, every character, every line of dialogue serves a purpose and nothing is extraneous.

The movie also features a stunning sequence late in the film in which Kate and the other agents raid a tunnel that the cartel uses to transport drugs underneath the border from Mexico into the US. The sequence is shot almost entirely with night-vision and thermal cameras, and is riveting to watch. It reminded me of the show-stopping conclusion of Zero Dark Thirty, where the Navy SEALS raid bin Laden’s safe house.

The whole film is incredibly well-acted and –directed. Emily Blunt is a lovely woman with a beautiful smile, but she doesn’t get much to smile about in this film. She plays Kate as a tough-as-nails agent who nonetheless can’t help but be affected by the toll her job takes on her. I really hope she gets nominated for an Oscar for her work in this film, she deserves it.

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Also Oscar-worthy is Benicio Del Toro, who plays Alejandro to absolute perfection. He is incredibly menacing, and his character’s true identity and motivations are kept mysterious throughout the film. You’re never quite sure what this guy’s deal is, but it’s hard to take your eyes off him whenever he’s onscreen. That must be a difficult balance to strike as an actor: to play a character who clearly has his own agenda, but to play him in such a way that the audience is never quite sure what that agenda is. I don’t know how you do that, but Del Toro makes it look easy.

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Josh Brolin also does solid work as a government agent accustomed to manipulating people. His constant gum-chewing and casual manner (he wears flip-flops to strategy meetings) clash with the serious nature of his job, and leads the viewer to question exactly what his deal is.

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All of these characters are fascinating to watch, with the ways that they bounce off each other and frequently clash. Of course there are other characters in the film, but it really belongs to the three of them, as well as Denis Villeneuve’s sure-handed direction and the gorgeous cinematography by the great Roger Deakins. Deakins is known for his work with Sam Mendes and the Coen Brothers and has been Oscar-nominated an astonishing twelve times but inexplicably has yet to actually win an Oscar. Who knows, maybe this film will fix that. Give the man a damn Oscar already. It’s long past due.

Anyway, rant over. Another thing that makes Sicario such an extraordinary film is its realism. It’s uncommonly realistic for a Hollywood movie, and it acknowledges many realities that most other movies simply gloss over. Guns are loud. Dead bodies smell bad. The good guys don’t always win. It’s sobering to be sure, but it’s also somewhat refreshing in a way to see a film that doesn’t glamorize its subject matter.

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At the beginning of the film, after the FBI team finds the bodies in the walls, some of them go out in the back yard and throw up. The film doesn’t dwell on this, but to me it really stood out. It’s an acknowledgment of an unpleasant reality. There’s no shame in it, it’s just something that happens.

Sicario is not an easy watch. It’s not the kind of movie you’ll want to watch frequently, but it is very good, and I could see myself watching it again at some point in the future. It’s the story of an idealistic protagonist who really wants to help improve a terrible situation, only to repeatedly find that she can’t. Without spoiling too much, it turns out that, in the end, she’s just a pawn. She’s basically being used for the entire movie. Still, I wouldn’t say that Sicario is a nihilist film necessarily, and I wouldn’t say that its makers are all a bunch of misanthropes. I don’t know. It’s a movie that’s hard to shake, regardless of the impression it leaves you with.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Have a good day folks, and never forget that there are good things in the world.