13 Oct REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve (Dir); Hampton Fancher, Michael Green (Scr)
Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis
Logline: On a routine mission, K (Gosling), a blade runner, unearths a mystery that promises tremendous implications on the way in which replicants and their roles in society are regarded.
It starts with retirement. In present day that might seem like an oxymoron that would certainly divide opinion the more objectively you looked at it, but in the world of 2049 it means only one thing: some poor soul is about to meet their maker.
Not in the literal sense, however, as the term ‘retirement’ refers to the elimination of one or more replicants – artificial humans first introduced to the world in Ridley Scott’s 1982 would-be masterpiece, Blade Runner – and their maker is very much alive and well, embodied by an on-form Jared Leto, successor to Tyrell in this, the long awaited follow-up to Scott’s original neo-noir.
The eponymous title in this case refers to Gosling’s K, whose day starts out as routinely as can be expected for one in his profession, but swiftly declines as old secrets are discovered and he promptly plunges headfirst down the rabbit hole.
That’s about as far as we can go without treading the fine lines of spoiler territory. Blade Runner 2049 is a rare beast in that it benefits from a seemingly universal desire by the viewing public to go into it with as little known as possible. Never before have trailers been avoided, reviews been ignored, even screenshots un-seen, with such mass pro-activity. Such is the cult popularity of the original and the calibre that director Denis Villeneuve has forged for himself; modern day gems such as Sicario, Arrival and Prisoners, as well as lesser-known diamonds such as Enemy and Incendies, have paved a glorious path for the helmer over the past seven years, taking him from one-to-watch status to one-who-can’t-be-missed.
If the weight of expectation was starting to feel overbearing, the French-Canadian isn’t letting on. 2049 is a work of cinematic, stylistic and thematic art. Palette seeps seamlessly from neon-speckled navy to smouldering orange ember and back again in a narrative that takes a world that seems very small and self-contained in the original movie and expands and improves upon it, creating an epic sense rarely seen in the noir genre. Weight of expectation? Pfft! Villeneuve has just slung expectation over one shoulder and beckoned for more.
Visually it doesn’t get any better than this. The neon-veined density of LA is equally oppressing as it is awe-inspiring, resembling some futuristic, dystopian favelas, enclosed and protected by a gigantic sea wall and sat under the ominous shadow of the Wallace Corporation, a colossal building that dwarfs even the original Tyrell headquarters. Villeneuve does not confine us to this one locale, however, opting to open up the Blade Runner world and show us how other parts of the country have turned out in this future. The results are enriching, adding intricate layers and substance to the mythos Scott created.
Every frame has been treated with care to maximise the impact of each successive story beat. It’s hard to believe Roger Deakins has never won a cinematography Oscar up until now, but he must be a shoe-in for the award for his work here. His use of lighting and framework to charge each and every scene with balance and energy is incredible, never moreso than in one scene late in the second act where (no spoilers!) the most tempting of bribes is given its response. Classic doesn’t begin to describe such conveyance.
Likewise the editing is a demonstration in control and skill, Villeneuve eager to plot a steady-yet-patient pace. Some might find this too slow, but this is the way good storytelling should be done and it is so very refreshing to see a film showing us entertainment doesn’t have to conform to the predictable beats of the Marvel universe.
Performances are equally as high from one side of the board to the other. Gosling channels the middle-distance smoulder of Driver, yet adds further dimensions; Ana de Armas exudes a sense of the classics in her role as every man’s fantasy, Joi; and Sylvia Hoeks and Mackenzie Davis also stand out. But it isn’t only in the leads and support where the talent dazzles, as the background is populated by familiar faces such as Lenny James, Dave Bautista and Captain Phillips’ Barkhad Abdi, who all shine.
The effects and design of this world are simply striking and a Making of documentary would be a well-received treat indeed. The little touches really add up as you go, Villeneuve seemingly keen to continue the brand placement that Scott dappled across his inner cityscapes. Although Peugeot… really?
On paper Fancher and Green do a stellar job of expanding on the themes of the first and even spreading them to the mortalities of the new cast of characters, exploring the ideas of what it means to be human in ways the original only dallied with. The script is another lesson in how to do things the right way.
Criticisms are miniscule. Leto’s villain, Niander Wallace, is not present nearly enough, passing the majority of antagonistic duties to right-hand woman, Luv (Hoeks). Elsewhere, certain reveals could have been made a little sleeker; throwing in three lines of dialogue where one would suffice and offering explanatory inserts just to make sure every idiot and their dog get it, isn’t really necessary, but these are just drops in a much more positive ocean. There is just too much good stuff on hand to remotely wallow in the nominal negatives.
Blade Runner 2049 won’t be to all tastes and perhaps the opening weekend Box Office numbers is a reflection of the fact. The length and pace may put off some, while anyone unfamiliar with the source material will doubtless reap little reward (Scott’s original is necessary homework).
But for any supporter of Blade Runner, for any supporter of great science fiction, for any supporter of stellar storytelling and just what cinema was designed for, this is an absolute must.
“I prefer to keep an empty stomach until the hard part of the day is done.”