Review: Blade Runner 2049
A return to the dystopic, smoke-filled, neon-lit streets of 1982’s Blade Runner, this sequel is in no way the pompous, bloated follow up you might expect.
It once again explores the grand themes, electric atmosphere and a volatile world which ignited the hearts, minds and souls of a generation of filmmakers and cinema fans alike.
Ryan Gosling’s Officer K is a new breed of Blade Runner. Working for the LAPD, K’s job is to track, hunt and retire ‘replicants’ that hide in the shadows of the brooding city.
Whilst on the job, K stumbles upon a long-buried secret that has the potential to change the very rules of the world in which he lives.
Down the rabbit hole
Director Denis Villeneuve is an angel. When I read that he was attached to the BladeRunner sequel, whatever apprehension I had disappeared. His body of work has never failed to blow me away.
Enemy is a surreal nightmare of identity, Prisoners the spiritual successor to David Fincher’s genre-defining cop noir Se7en.
Sicario is a dread-inducing showcase of the human spirit in decline and Arrival, a big Sci-Fi blockbuster with intelligence, heart and import.
Watching Blade Runner 2049 I realised everything that came before was merely a warm-up for what he presents here.
Villeneuve utilises everything used in the past to deliver a film so replete with life, that its essence bores deep inside to salt the ideas presented, not only making them tastier but preserving their meaning.
If Blade Runner was the scramble toward the light above then 2049 is the plunge deeper into dystopia.
This, all thanks to our proxy in Ryan Gosling as K. Although initially seeming like a quiet performance, as the narrative blooms, so does Gosling.
He certainly channels his performance in Drive, but this is by no means a rehash. The angst, despair, desire, longing he portrays through his stare are subtitles to his mind.
Gosling is a still tree in the first few scenes. Cold and distant although not unaware of his plights and the prejudices of the world. As the story unravels, however, the tree is whittled into a piece of living, breathing art.
Gosling may be the spearhead here as 2049 is his film and story (this isn’t to take anything away from Deckard so worry not fellow fans) but every character casts a shadow.
Ana de Armas is vulnerable yet inspiring as Joi, K’s confidant and love. She is intoxicating and plays against Gosling tremendously. The characters complement one another, wanting to protect and enable.
Robin Wright’s Lieutenant Joshi is stern and sharp, as if Claire Underwood left politics for policing.
Niander Wallace is the self-appointed prodigal son of Tyrell and his corporation. He is a self-aggrandising romantic with a soft voice and stolid resolve.
Jared Leto as Niander proposes a new take on the Replicant race. As does Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton, an android who must hide his humanity.
Mackenzie Davis is Mariette, a sex worker that looks eerily like Daryl Hannah’s acrobatic Pris – when she was first cast I thought it must be for some sort of flashback.
Sylvia Hoek’s Luv, Wallace’s right-hand woman, is a revelation. Frighteningly subservient and with a penchant to prove herself.
The movie is full of these bold, full characters – and I haven’t even mentioned Harrison Ford. I’ll say little other than this might be his most nuanced and aching performance on film.
‘Career best’ is a term that could be attributed to everyone involved in Blade Runner 2049.
The original film’s Art Style and Direction ignited the imaginations of its audience.
The imagination of Philip K Dick was transported from the pages of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep – a classic of the Science Fiction genre and one of my personal favourites – into film reel by director, Ridley Scott.
Designers undertook a painstaking process of artistic design for logos, products, vehicles, weapons, people, and androids to create then perpetuate Los Angeles 2019.
The sheer scale of the world boggles my mind on every viewing of the original but 2049 somehow expands upon what was, to create a gargantuan setting primed to swallow any who look upon it.
Whilst we spend time in the darkened cityscape of LA, we also go beyond that, granting a larger view of the eco/sociological state in which android and humankind inhabit a dying world.
Art Direction wasn’t the only subliminal vortex which immersed the audience in Blade Runner for Vangelis’ score is as iconic as Roy Batty’s monologue or the steaming streets.
Vangelis hasn’t returned for 2049 (Villeneuve collaborator Johan Johannsson was set to compose but Villeneuve decided to go with something closer to Vangelis’s original tone) but on-board is Benjamin Wallfisch (recently scaring cinemagoers with his violent string in IT) and the omnipresent Hans Zimmer.
As such, the score is a delight, capturing the old in a haunting, impactful way whilst evoking K’s tumultuous journey in a different time. Prepare the soundtrack for the car journey home from the cinema.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…
Blade Runner 2049 has a substantial run-time of 163 minutes but there isn’t a wasted frame.
Roger Deakins has created a picture of such visceral beauty and vivid iconography that with such grandstanding aplomb, he has cemented himself as the favourite for the Best Cinematography Oscar.
The lighting of the original film is thin and searching, adding tension as it passes over the key players in an accusatory manner. The lighting of 2049 is godly and ever-changing. A presence in itself.
Whether it be the light of dancing water in Niander Wallace’s HQ or the ethereal burnt orange hue of a deserted landscape that can be seen in the trailers and posters, light morphs and shapes the locales of 2049 into dystopic art installations. Not one of which is disposable to the aesthetics nor the narrative.
The pace of 2049 may be a slow crawl but you can be sure it is meant to be that way. The audience isn’t manipulated by shock and awe tactics. The plot itself is shocking and awe-inspiring enough.
It doesn’t ask for, nor demand your attention as much as it rewards it on a titanic level for a little intellectual insight.
There is a ponderous air to proceedings, allowing for time to digest the subtlety in the story.
It’s scale and ambition are mighty and whilst I may seem to be speaking in hyperbole, it is hard not to gush about a story so important and integral to the genre, medium and political climate.
This is a masterpiece that somehow honours and builds upon the humanistic themes of the book and the original film, all the while exploring the morality of a new generation. It penetrates so deep as to scar your bones.
Blade Runner 2049 is a romantic, ponderous picture about the beauty and brevity of life. It showcases poetry and prose through its narrative and radiates imagery and sound that envelops and intrigues.
Sitting and experiencing it for the first time, I knew I was witness to a cinematic milestone, as I know I will be in each subsequent viewing.
This is a child that had no right to be what it is and yet has defied expectations in every conceivable way.
Even Roy Batty wouldn’t believe what he has seen in Blade Runner 2049.
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