Review: Blade Runner 2049

In 1982, Ridley Scott showed us a dark vision of the future.

A vision in which humanoid cyborgs dubbed Replicants were hunted by police-sanctioned assassins dubbed “Blade runners” whose sole purpose was to kill or “retire” these rogue machines.

That film was, of course, the now iconic sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner, a film that since it’s release and thanks to its various director’s cuts and final cuts has emerged as one of the most debated, studied and beloved science fiction films ever made.

Now, 35 years later, it falls to acclaimed director Dennis Villeneuve to attempt the unthinkable; create a sequel to this beloved classic. A task that in less skilled hands could result in a disaster that would sully the memory of the original.

Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 not only isn’t a disaster, but it’s also quite possibly one of the most visually stunning and intelligent films you’re likely to see all year.

 

In 2049, Officer K, a blade runner tasked with hunting down and killing Replicants, uncovers a long-buried secret that, if revealed to the world, could trigger an event that could lead to the extinction of all life on the Earth, leading him to seek out Rick Deckard, a veteran blade runner who might just hold the key to humanity’s survival.

As this film is still in theatres as of the time of writing I will refrain from spoilers as much as I can. And believe me, this is a film you’ll want to see on the biggest screen you can find because it is gorgeous.

To say this film is visually stunning would be an understatement, as director Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins collaborate to create a beautifully dark vision of a future we hope never arrives.

With its shots of a radiation-ravaged Las Vegas or the dark, cramped, rain-soaked streets of Los Angeles, or the seemingly unending line of protein farms that greet our eyes in the film’s opening, 2049 is a visually breathtaking feast that simply melts your eyes with the dystopian beauty it has to offer.

The stunning visuals are complemented by the film’s fantastic production design which creates the feeling of a lived-in world, from the lush, spacious spa-like offices of the Wallace Corporation to cramped slums of future Los Angeles.

The film while offering exceptional visuals also gifts us a with a roaster of mostly great performances from its talented cast.

Ryan Gosling gives a solid performance as K, a newer blade runner who undergoes a transformative experience throughout the film, with the actor subtly transforming the character from a somewhat emotionless killer into an increasingly sympathetic and human protagonist as he embarks on his newest investigation.

Harrison Ford slips back into his role of original Blade Runner protagonist after 35 years with great ease, managing to retain the characters world-weary dry wit, while also portraying an emotional vulnerability and humanity rarely shown by the veteran actor throughout his long and varied career. It’s just great to see Ford return to yet another iconic after Han Solo and let’s just hope the trend continues when he returns as a certain Dr. Jones in 2020. Could have done with more screentime here though.

The supporting cast is also in fine form with excellent turns from Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, and Robin Wright. Jared Leto also gives a decent performance as the mysterious replicant builder Niander Wallace, the film’s main villain, although he really doesn’t get too much apart from sitting in a darkly lit room giving long monologues.

Wallace is frankly one of the film’s weaker elements with the characters rather stock evil ambitions and monologuing nature making him a poor successor to the original film’s antagonist Roy Batty, who stole that entire film thanks mainly due to Rutger Hauer’s subtle and moving performance, with his now iconic “tears in rain” monologue offering much more pathos and poignancy than any of Leto’s ramblings.

The story of the film is difficult to discuss without going into spoilers. However, the story is one that follows on from and expands upon the key themes of the original film, such as what it really means to be human, the increasingly human qualities of machine life and the impact that this increasingly human-like machinery could have on the future of humanity itself.

The story itself is also much grander in scope when compared to the first Blade Runner. The original film was a simple detective story as Ford’s Deckard attempted to track down a group of Replicants who were running loose in Los Angeles. However, it was the film’s complex themes and visual style that turned it into a beloved classic with its legions of loyal fans.

2049 continues with many of these themes but uses them to create a much more epic story, with K’s investigation taking him across all across the wasteland that the world has become, with his mission having potentially apocalyptic consequences if he fails, with it having a sort of “race against time” feel to it. It’s a fine story that works within the context of the film, however, I much prefer the original film with its simpler plot that allowed for a much deeper delving into the stories key themes and of the characters motivations.

Those expecting a fast paced all action sci-fi adventure that the film’s trailers seem to suggest will be disappointed, with Blade Runner 2049 following the original films’ approach of telling a slow-burning detective tale that follows K as he, well, does some “detecting”, whether it be interviewing witnesses/suspects or collecting and studying the various bits evidence he finds.

Yet at nearly 3 hours long, I was never for a second bored by the film’s slow pace, with its methodical approach allowing me to soak up the visual splendour on the screen. (Can you tell that I really like the visuals of this film).

The action that is in the film though is often brief, brutal and swift in its execution. My personal favourite action set piece comes in the opening brawl between Gosling’s K and hulking Replicant Sapper Morton (played by wrestler/actor Dave Bautista) with it being particularly vicious as the two crash through walls and batter the ever-loving crap out of each other with the fantastic (not to mention LOUD) sound design making sure you really feel every punch.

The music is a bit of mixed bag with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score being an effective replicating of otherworldly futuristic nature of the original film’s score, falls far too often into Zimmer’s usual habit of trying to deafen the viewer with thunderous drums and blaring synth horns.

It’s not a bad score, and much of it does work well, but it just doesn’t feel like it fits at times, with the much more subdued and synth-jazz nature of the original film’s score by Vangelis being a much more effective mood setter.

With some of the most beautiful cinematography that you’re likely to see all year, an intriguing story that expands upon the original film’s themes of humanity and robotics and a cast of fine performances led by Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, Blade Runner 2049 is a beautifully bleak vision of the future that is a more than worthy follow-up to Ridley Scott’s original classic.

Time will only tell if 2049 will become as classic as the original film, but until then go and see this film in the cinema while you still can.

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