Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review – Future Noir Nourishment

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review - Future Noir Nourishment

The Blade Runner sequel has been a long time coming and despite understandable concerns that the pioneering cyberpunk masterpiece would be impossible to follow up, the results are undeniably impressive. What we have in Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel made by people who understand what makes the original film special on all levels. Somehow Denis Villeneuve and his team have delivered a Blade Runner sequel not just as beautifully crafted as the original, but also just as evocatively (and at times frustratingly) complex. This is a thoughtful film about the nature of consciousness, creation, and existence that just happens to have been produced on a massive blockbuster scale. It’s a minor miracle of a movie that should please fans of hard sci-fi, if not necessarily the popcorn munching broad blockbuster audience.

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Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas in Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – images via Warner Bros. Studios

In keeping with this unexpectedly thoughtful release, the studio has also made unexpectedly restrictive demands about maintaining a level of secrecy about the plot. Despite the fact that the studio gave away the biggest possible spoiler by announcing Harrison Ford’s involvement before production even began (he doesn’t even show up until two hours into the movie), it’s a reasonable enough request to honour. Blade Runner 2049 does boast a fairly labyrinthine plot (especially compared to the rather sparse story of the original film) with some pleasantly thoughtful surprises. So I’ll play the game. The basics are that we re-enter the Blade Runner world 35 years after the original story. Things have gotten worse. Food can no longer even be grown on this polluted earth, so much of the population has left the planet. Those that remain are stuck eating the synthetic food created by a new dominate corporation run by a creepy Jared Leto. He also created a new breed of more obedient replicant, which has taken up an even larger portion of the population. Ryan Gosling plays one such replicant, he’s also a Blade Runner primarily assigned to kill off the few remaining old models left. The opening scene sees him take out his latest such assignment (Dave Bautista) and that leads him into a larger mystery no one could have anticipated.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review - Future Noir Nourishment
Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – image via Warner Bros. Studios

That should be vague enough. Not that plot summaries would particularly spoil this cinematic experience. Sure there’s a twisty-turny noirish detective story to explore. But the film isn’t so much about plot mechanics as brainy thematics. Building on the previous Blade Runner’s exploration of a disconnected artificial world and the nature of consciousness and life within a cyborg, Blade Runner 2049 slowly spirals out into a variety of pointed questions and images. New forms of holographic intelligence create new strata of artificial life. Leto’s CEO is even more overtly a god figure than Tyrell from last time (and hardly a benevolent one). The polluted and discarded world raises all sorts of questions about where our own may go. The use of women characters in the film further explores the commodification, objectification, and dismissal of that half of the species as teased out by the first movie. Basically, Villeneuve and his team have gone out of their way to explore every nook and cranny of the critical analysis spooned onto Blade Runner in the decades since it’s release and update n’ explore them all. The movie is filled with visual references, echoes, and even outright repetitions from the first movie, yet all with a purpose. Blade Runner predicted and defined many 20th-century sci-fi concerns and Blade Runner 2049 teases them up to the modern day and beyond.

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Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – image via Warner Bros. Studios

All of which doesn’t sound particularly exciting and trust that this almost 3-hour long sci-fi epic isn’t one of constant visceral stimulation. There is violence and action in Blade Runner 2049, it’s just always terse, brutal, and unromantic (you know, like the last one). Most of the splendour and entertainment of the film springs from the stunning imagery and world building. After all, Blade Runner essentially created a future sci-fi aesthetic that defined so much of what followed. The design of the sequel doesn’t push things into directions that will redefine the future of the genre, but it does create an evocative and lived-in world as beautiful as any film made in the last 35 years. The mixture of practical and digital effects is seamless. The dusty and damaged worlds tell a deeper story through design than anything played in the drama. The smoky, neon-lit cinematography by Roger Deakins is never short of astounding. It’s the type of movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen available, IMAX if possible. A bar has been raised.

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Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas in Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – image via Warner Bros. Studios

Performances are strong throughout, but like Blade Runner, everyone is muted and lost to underline the themes of artificial humanity and disconnection. In no way is Blade Runner 2049 designed to offer a cuddly and satisfying emotional experience. It’s a harsh and uncompromising vision of the future and our world designed to provoke and create discomfort. There’s little joy here. In its place is a richly and evocatively cynical vision of the future that delights the eyes and toys with the mind with little space for the heart. That’s true to Blade Runner in ways practically guaranteed to please the most ardent fan base. It’s unlikely to please anyone who didn’t like the original or hasn’t seen it though. That’s fine. This is a blockbuster art film sequel to a cult film. The fact that it even exists is somewhat of a miracle. Those who will appreciate what Villeneuve and co. accomplished will appreciate it enough to make up for those who couldn’t’ care less. This is one for us and god bless Warner Brothers for making it happen. This movie was a risk that paid off beautifully in artistic terms. Now let’s see how the pesky marketplace responds.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Pill’s take on Kingsmen: The Golden CircleAmerican Made, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!

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The Nice Guys (Movie) Review

The Nice Guys (Movie) Review

Shane Black has been a fixture of Hollywood’s action movie machine since his first script (written shortly out of college) turned out to be Lethal Weapon. That same year he also co-wrote The Monster Squad and co-starred/touched up Predator. Since then he’s made a career out of mocking and indulging in action movie excess through titles like The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3. He’s always been a master of the misdirect with a keen knowledge for when to indulge in expected genre excitement and when to take a wildly unexpected left turn. Over the years, he’s also grown as a writer to the point where his greatest strengths have become dialogue and characterization—when he’s given the screen space to show those skills off. Following the billion dollar success of Iron Man 3, Black finally got to launch his long delayed passion project The Nice Guys, which shows off his skills while delivering a brand of character-driven crime thriller that comes along far too rarely these days. Black being Black, his personal artiste effort is still all about pure entertainment, just a brand that we don’t get much in the summer movie season anymore.

The Nice Guys (Movie) Review 2The film takes place in late 70s Hollywood, which means a yellow haze of smog, Jaws 2 billboards, and a parade of perverts marching the streets. However, as much as Black and his production team enjoy bringing back the absurd excesses of that decade, their film feels more like a product of 80s Hollywood: a raunchy buddy picture that only pauses its parade of insults to stage an action scene. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling co-star as a pair of bumbling detectives who barely qualify as private eyes. Crowe is a living blunt instrument who punches troublemakers in the face for cash. Gosling is, ostensibly, a licensed PI, but he’s mostly a con man whose major business skill is extending simple cases for bigger paydays. He’s also a casual alcoholic struggling to raise a teenage daughter (Angourie Rice), so the guy has problems. These two lovable deadbeats find themselves working together when they both end up in the middle of a mystery involving the porn and auto industries. It’s just as messy as it sounds and obviously Gosling’s daughter ends up becoming the brains of the operation.

The film succeeds primarily on the strength of its central trio. More than anything else, it feels like a hangout picture where the audience is invited to fall in love with the oddball trio and miss them when the credits role. The characters have depth and the words have snap, which the actors dig into gamely. Crowe is charming enough to remind everyone why he’s a movie star, finally embracing the lovable lug roles that got him famous again while also playing a character for whom a grizzled voice and bulky Dad bod are entirely appropriate. The guy even tosses in some slapstick, but not nearly as much as Gosling. If there’s a major revelation to be found in The Nice Guys’ hilarious two hours of kind-hearted shocks n’ sleaze, then it’s the fact that Gosling is a remarkable physical comedian. He tosses himself around the screen and indulges in double takes like a silent comedy master, while also slipping into plenty of the broken puppy stares and wounded whining that made him a star. Together the pair are a damn delight, filled with contrasts and chemistry that make them compulsively watchable. As Angourie Rice grows into a vital part of the team by the climax, the young actress proves more than capable of holding her corner of the screen against the two stars. She plays one of Black’s patented brand of completely un-precocious kids wisened by a crappy world beyond their years. She’s also one of the best examples of this character type to date and if the suggested sequel in the closing frames comes true, it’ll actually be worth revisiting these three characters.

The Nice Guys (Movie) Review 6Of course, while the main pleasures of The Nice Guys might be the performances and endearing scumbags, this is a detective/thriller/action picture after all. So that stuff counts. Thankfully, that’s always been Shane Black’s bread n’ butter. He delivers some big violent explosions and moments of spectacle, but never quite in the ways that you’d expect. The guy’s got a knack for nudging the audience down one direction before pulling them the other way and toying with genre clichés. So the big moments tend to be out of left field and the scenes that feel like something you’ve seen before are only there for a rug pull punch line. It’s immensely fun stuff that even dips into the surreal as our drunken narrators go a little too long without sleep.

The only real down note in the whole picture is the central mystery. It might hint at a little bit of Chinatown-style historical fiction/satire, but ultimately the plot is a McGuffin and the villain doesn’t even appear until the third act. It’s a little bit convoluted and underwhelming, especially since all the salacious elements promise big things. Thankfully, this is the type of detective fiction where the mystery doesn’t really matter; It’s just an excuse to connect a gang of fascinating characters, some brilliant scenes, and a few great jokes. Not everything sticks in The Nice Guys, but not a second of it is boring either. This flick deserves to be a hit, but if that doesn’t happen it’s only so that it can become a cult favourite within the year. There will be many fans of The Nice Guys one way or another and even if this thing doesn’t turn into a franchise, it’ll be beloved enough by a certain sect of viewers to feel like one. Besides, the ever-growing Shane Black universe feels like a unified wise-cracking space with each new release anyways. There may never be a crossover tale, but it all feels like ongoing chapters in one big delightful pulp story worth wasting a weekend with.