Esteemed director and immensely talented filmmaker Denis Villeneuve returns to our screen in emphatic fashion. Hot on the heels of his previous Sci-fi adventure Arrival, Villeneuve seemed the perfect candidate to bring the Blade Runner world back to our screens.
Whilst many argue that Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is a bonafide masterpiece, there are a select few (like me) who regret to hold no such perceptions. With that being said, respect must be paid to Scott’s revolutionary vision that almost single-handedly set the standard for the sci-fi genre, from the breathtaking visuals to the existential themes of modernity and crisis.
Set 30-years after the events of Scott’s film, Blade Runner 2049 delves back again into dystopian Los Angeles, an almost post-apocalyptic ruin of a city. A familiarity with the three prologue shorts that Villeneuve released prior to his film’s release helps to understand the chaos that the city finds itself in, thanks to a purposely orchestrated black-out that wiped out all existing records regarding the Replicants.
The Tyrell Corporation is replaced with the more-so evil Wallace corporation, helmed by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), whose newer models of Replicants have been granted access to the streets of Los Angeles, although the older models must be ‘retired’ by the infamous Blade Runners; police officers who are tasked with the eradication of said foes.
Swapping the trench coat and alcoholism for a trendy parka, Ryan Gosling is Officer ‘K’; who is first introduced in the very first scene in a wonderfully coordinated battle against the hulking presence of Dave Bautista. Gosling provides a mature performance as the charming but burdened ‘K’, whose physical prowess is established consistently throughout the film. He’s tailor-made for the role of a conflict-capable Blade Runner, a vast improvement to Harrison Ford’s rag-doll tendencies in the first film; and a true testament to Villeneuve’s ability to evoke the best from his actors.
Other newcomers Jared Leto and Robin Wright also provide strong performances, but it’s the introduction of Ana de Armas’ JOI, Officer K’s love-interest and trusted companion, who is the most surprising. Armas’ character is played with empathy, whose companionship with Gosling’s ‘K’ results in some truly tender moments throughout the film.
With what seems is complete respect and adoration for Scott’s 1982 classic, Denis Villeneuve continues to explore the same existential themes of self-identity and mortality as seen in the previous film. Villeneuve stamps his trademark thematic style by placing a great deal of confidence in the intelligence of his audience, in their ability to follow the chain of events unravelling on screen, and their competence in unpacking the film’s many enigmas; similar to the mysterious natures of his previous works – Enemy and Arrival.
Villeneuve places an enormous amount of detail in the characterisation of the newcomers, an achievement helmed by his collaboration with editor Joe Walker, whose decision to tell the story at a truly slow pace is both brave and distinctive. Walker gives the characters the time they need to develop and stride forward, and whilst this sense of elongation will feel like a slow-burner for most, this change of pace will give you the time needed to not only invest in the characters, but to also be absorbed by its cinematography.
Villeneuve’s partnership with esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins has never looked so beautiful. Much like his vision in Villeneuve’s previous works, Sicario and Prisoners, Deakins manages to expertly connect the landscapes, colours and tone to the film’s core subject matter of existential crisis. This time around, Ryan Gosling’s character ventures along vibrant, dystopian landscapes in a future where the world is in chaos. His noir-esque vision clashes with explosive colours, resulting in what can only be explained as a beautiful portrait of expressionism.
The film’s dystopian atmosphere, whilst foregrounded by Deakins’ vision, is also emphatically resonated through Wallfisch and Zimmer’s radiant soundtrack. Their score is undeniably influenced by Vangelis’ original synthetic score in the first film, at times it’s even identical, but Wallfisch and Zimmer also attempt to push Villeneuve’s film into darker territories. It’s eerie, suspenseful, and more often that not completely terrifying.
It’s become somewhat of a gimmick for Harrison Ford to emerge dramatically from the shadows, but the return of Rick Deckard is met by goosebumps from the audience. Ford returns to the character with his trademark ‘I-don’t-give-a-shit’ attitude, adding more humour and light-heartedness to his moderately grumpy demeanour in the first film.
If you’re seeking the answers you require regarding the nature of Deckard’s character, something that has been controversially discussed by many fans, with even Ridley Scott and Villeneuve clashing heads over it, you’ll be somewhat disappointed. Villeneuve acknowledges the mystery and somehow manages to simultaneously unpack it and provide no answers; something I feel is more profound and brave than merely providing a definitive explanation.
When it boils down to it, Blade Runner 2049 is everything fans from the first film wanted it to be, and even more so. Villeneuve’s adoration is proved by the amount of effort going into doing the original film justice, but his bravery to try and push the film in a new direction has once again proved that the French-Canadian director is one of the most impressive talents that the 21st Century has to offer.
Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece in its own right.
A brave and confident piece of filmmaking!