When news broke that Ridley Scott’s neo-noir classic Blade Runner would be spawning a sequel, a collective sigh could be heard across the film community. Though a flop on initial release, Scott’s final cut is now acknowledged as a masterpiece; a film that has completely shaped the landscape of contemporary science fiction cinema. When it was announced that Denis Villeneuve, director of recent hits Sicario and Arrival, would pen this sequel, there was a sense that this could be something special.
The plot picks up 30 years after the events of the original and follows ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) who works as a Blade Runner for the LAPD. As established in a sensual font in the film’s opening frames, Blade Runners hunt replicants, synthetic humans manufactured for slave labour. While working a case, K makes a discovery that could have a profound consequence for both humans and replicants alike. As he tries to find answers, he crosses paths with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) a former Blade Runner who has been hiding for the last three decades, and who might have the answers to K’s discovery.
The film’s plot cleverly continues and develops the themes of the original. In particular, the inclusion of virtual reality to the Blade Runner world creates an intriguing new element to Villeneuve’s film, with the relationship K has with his holographic A.I. girlfriend (Ana de Armas) being the most fascinating. An extension of Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’, the relationship explores whether an A.I. can experience emotions like love or are they just programmed to please. This leads to one of the most interesting and thought provoking sex scenes in recent cinematic memory. The film’s existential anxieties and fascination with the dichotomies of the virtual and the real will surely be a source of discussion in years to come. It’s a film that begs for its questions of morality to be picked apart, discussed and debated.
It is a shame then that the film is somewhat weighed down by its expositional dialogue, in particular Dave Bautista and Robin Wright’s characters who seem to only be used to relay and repeat important information to the audience. Unlike the original, there isn’t a subtlety to the revelations and there is little room for interpretation. Blade Runner 2049 is an intelligent film but you can’t help but feel like it thinks its audience needs to be pushed in the right direction.
However, performances by its core cast are strong. Ryan Gosling brings great complexity to the role of K, carefully navigating the emotional arc for a character that could have so easily come off cold. Harrison Ford’s performance as Dekker reminds you that Ford has so much more than natural charisma. Though his recent Star Wars homecoming was a glorious fan-service, this part has plenty more for Ford to bite into, exploring matters of legacy and death. Perhaps it might be because I find Jared Leto spectacularly annoying, but his performance as Niander Wallace is the film’s major downfall. Every one of his lines is performed like a grand speech in the round which just doesn’t fit with the subtly of Gosling and Ford’s work.
What truly astonishes is Roger Deakin’s cinematography, who manages to retain and perhaps even top the visual grandeur of the original. The film’s refreshingly slow pace allows the audience to bask in its rich visuals: the dusty and burnt orange of the sky, the misty fog that engulfs the landscape and the bright, neon colours so familiar to the neo-noir genre which are restricted to the artificial lights of advertising and entertainment.
Dennis Gassner’s production design shouldn’t go without note. The angular lines and brutality of the architecture display how this world had become much more demanding in the last 30 years. As Gassner and Deakin’s work collide, it creates some of the most astonishing contemporary cinematic images. Wallace’s honeycomb office in particular comes to mind; a stunningly unique interface of architecture and light, you can’t help but feel chills as the reflected light ripples on the golden slated walls. For the love of god give these two the Oscar.
Philip K Dick was famously in awe of the Scott’s vision, but if he could see the gorgeous cinematic images his work has now created, I’m sure he would be completely overwhelmed. I can only wince at the thought of someone watching it on their laptop screen.
Though it doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights of Arrival or the rich complexity of Scott’s original, Blade Runner 2049 is a film that blockbusters of our time should aspire to be: thought-provoking, entertaining and truly cinematic.
Verdict: 4 STARS
– Tara Jennett
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