Blade Runner 2049 Review

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay by: Hampton Fancher & Michael Green
Produced by: Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud Yorkin, Cynthia Yorkin, Ridley Scott (Executive Producer)
Based on: Characters from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Studio: Alcon Entertainment, Scott Free Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures/Columbia Pictures 

Release Date: 6th October 2017

The idea of a sequel to Blade Runner, a film which felt perfectly self contained in of itself, is something that many people have been cautiously optimistic about, myself included. You would need an idea that felt thematically and spiritually appropriate to such a sequel, and a director who is at the top of his game. Thankfully, that appears to be the case. Stepping down as director, Ridley Scott assumes the role of executive producer and passing the directorial reigns to Denis Villeneuve, who has demonstrated tremendous chops for science fiction after Arrival and manages to craft what may well be the best possible version of a sequel in Blade Runner 2049.

Thirty years after the events in 2019, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) has vanished, the Tyrell Corporation has gone bankrupt and replaced by the much larger and more powerful replicant corporation headed by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). While replicants have been integrated into society, discrimination against them is still rampant throughout society. The blade runners, are still in service to retire older replicant models. One of them K (Ryan Gosling), investigates the farm of an elusive replicant, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), whom he retires and discovers a flower in front of a tree and finds a buried box. He finds human remains inside. After learning the truth about the box’s contents, K is ordered to destroy all evidence related to the case by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), who believes the knowledge that this discovery presents would destabilize the already tenuous society of humans and replicants.

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The acting is very much in line with Villeneuve’s directing style; its subdued but knows when to get more fired up. Gosling is very much a solid successor to Deckard’s blade runner role, with a steely resolve and a lot of conflicting emotions; when they emerge he is able to nail flawlessly. Improving on even his performance in The Force Awakens, Ford portrays Deckard as a traumatized and bitter old man, but beneath that crusty shell he does show great emotion and subtle humanity. While not appearing until well into the second half of the film, he commands every scene. Anna de Armis has a great turn as Joi, K’s hologram companion, providing a convincing a manifestation of what artificial intelligence could become in our future; her bond with Gosling’s K is at once mystifying and at times endearing. Leto has a subtle sense of sinister mysticism and strangeness to him, using his voice to come across as more sibilant despite his blindness and frail appearance. Sylvia Hoeks features as a deadly replicant servant of Wallace named Luv, and gives her action scenes a lot of energy and ferocity. As a world weary and hardened police lieutenant, Wright makes the most of a fairly limited expositional role. Bautista has a pretty small but crucial role as the replicant Morton, and Carla Juri instills a lot of innocence and tenderness as the memory designer Dr. Ana Stelline.

The film captures the sense of scale and overwhelming darkness and strangeness of the future as envisioned by Ridley Scott, Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. The city sets and massive halls of the Wallace Corporation all look and feel like something out of the designs of Frank Gehry. There are visual homages to the original, with the abandoned Tyrell pyramid being dwarfed by the massive building of the Wallace Corporation that help to establish the changes to this world and a greater sense of menace. The fictional language of “cityspeak” is used more profusely, and it does its job of making it integral to the world of the movie and in turn builds up the believability of a futuristic world with changing languages.

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The massive visual effects sequences from the flying cars to city sprawls are incredibly consistent in feel and tone with a thirty-five year old movie. Some of the best material is the actualization of Joi’s holographic presence, creating a somewhat ghostlike aura and allowing for some creative visuals such as how she replicates the effect of rain falling on skin despite not being a physical being. The visual demonstration of the city of Los Angeles and garish, colourful signboards and holograms will elicit many smiles of approval from long time fans of Scott’s sci-fi opus. It’s almost absurd to compare the different sets of effects techniques between the two films, but I must indulge myself this once. The sense of tangibility and grit from the combination of sets and miniatures from the first film that left such a great impression on viewers was lightning in a bottle, and the fact that this comes close, yet not so close as to be a seamless pair, without using the same tools of the 80s is commendable.

The action scenes are sparse and spread out across the long running time, and are gratefully less dependent on flashy effects and editing and more focused on generating suspense and high tension. While there is implementation of CGI or pyrotechnics, none of it feels gratuitous and feels in keeping with the 80’s style of direction, with as much of it filmed in camera as possible. Any scene where Luv is hunting down or fighting K, or indeed any scene where she’s on screen, you get a real sense of danger from the way those scenes are directed and how she dominates each scene.

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Roger Deakins’ cinematography is remarkable, capturing the visual awe and desolation of the future, from the grey, bleak, dark cityscape, the desaturated lighting and sheer absence of life throughout. The use of shadows and contrast of colour in other scenes makes for. The use of fog and lighting help the visual effects feel organically integrated into each scene. While it’s hard to criticize cinematography as remarkable as what Deakins was able to capture, I do think the film feels slightly more in line with Villeneuve’s aesthetic for Arrival than it does Blade Runner. There is a lack of fine detail and stark contrast makes a few of the city scenes feel too devoid of life and character, but are otherwise perfect for the grey, barren wastelands around the city.

The score is a combined effort by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer alternates between industrial growls and rumbles, and the softer Vangelis themes are occasionally referenced but it’s clear that the new score is its own creature. There is no doubt that this score lends itself completely to the type of film that it is, but like many movie scores these days I don’t really see myself listening to it by itself.

The script by Fancher and Michael Green pursues the existential identity crisis of the original, following up on the theme of “more human to be human” and how much are we a product of our memories. The most touched on theme in the film is that of the replicants receiving recognition as human beings, and what we see raises a great deal of questions that feel pertinent to our world and our relationship with technology and where it could develop from such scenarios, with the possibility of the creation succeeding the declining creator. The relationships between humans, replicants and other forms of artificial intelligence make for some of the most fascinating narrative sequences in any film this year. The scenes with K and Joi are fascinatingly captivating and strange in their own way that you find yourself wondering if indeed this is what the future could hold between us as a species and our advanced technology. At times, I believed them as a couple more than the scenes between Deckard and Rachael in the original. The animal motif of the first film is presented in a more subdued lens, with the wooden horse being presented as a memento of K’s childhood memories. For those who recall the unicorn motif of the first film, this creates another layer of intrigue that pays off really well.

The sense of mystery throughout around the underlying premise of a replicant, and is faithful to the film noir aspect of the original film. Gosling does do more on-screen detecting than Deckard, as we follow him you feel like you’re unraveling the mystery with him, and are for the most part more emotionally connected to his journey. The use of flashbacks are intelligently interwoven to the point that it doesn’t feel like a lazy retread of the original, true to form for the film itself. If at one point you start to wonder if the film is being deliberately predictable, the rug gets pulled from under you you. There are certain twists and turns which screw with your expectations by making you too comfortable with any suppositions of the plot you may have had.

This is a longer film than the original Blade Runner, and for me it did feel a bit too long. The pace is very slow, just like the original, and the more desolate dystopian future makes that pacing even more evident. You feel like you’re being tested by it all the way through, even if the final result is rewarding. There is one scene during K’s encounter with Deckard that recreates an Elvis Presley through holograms concert that I could not help but feel baffled by it. It felt very tonally dissonant and not as well shot as the vast majority of the film.

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Blade Runner 2049 builds upon the story of the first film, like all the best sequels, feeling like an organic follow up. Denis Villeneuve is developing an impressive directorial profile to line up. For me it achieves a great deal of balancing philosophical storytelling with emotional resonance, but doesn’t reach total satisfaction. In that sense, it runs the same gambit as the original. I do have my issues with the film but they are so small in comparison to the rest of the film, that it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Final Score: 4.5 / 5