1982 is an important year in cinematic history. It was the year that Ridley Scott released the highly influential film, Blade Runner. While the theatrical cut is a compromised waste of celluloid smothered in a voice over and studio-mandated happy ending, the film’s production design and the tone that could be felt through the executive meddling captured the imagination of countless filmmakers and changed the way the future looked forever; 35 years later we are back with a new director and new cast. With some trepidation, I went into the cinema hoping that Blade Runner 2049 wouldn’t be a corporate money grab but a spiritual sequel to one of the most important films of all time. Almost three hours later, I am at my computer feverishly typing my thoughts: here they are, those that aren’t too garbled.
2049 is set 30 years after the original 1982 film; the Tyrell corporation has gone bankrupt and was acquired by another company fronted by the mysterious Niander Wallace, there has been a replicant uprising and a global loss of information in 2022. The film follows a replicant Blade Runner named K who is tracking some old Replicant models, but during his investigation, he unwittingly stumbles upon something much larger and more sinister that has him questioning his life, identity and position.
Denis Villeneuve, director of Arrival, Enemy and Prisoners, has delivered a film that is similarly spectacular. A layered and enveloping film that will draw you into a creatively realised world, keeping you there with a story that will make you question the nature of identity, the soul and the previous film. Legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, and production designer, Dennis Gassner, work together to create a sumptuous world filled with rich detail and a creative use of colour and shadow to create that futuristic tech-noir of the original. Villeneuve is a fan of the colour yellow, and it is all over 2049, as well as neon reds, blues, greens and pinks all drenched in rain or smoke or the dust of this dying world.
The tone of 2049 continues on from the original; it is moody, dark and beautiful. The central conflict is truly thought-provoking and meaningful. There are no good and bad, black and white, only grey and a lesser of two evils. Finally, the hints that are made in the film towards extra things going on in the background give an almost existential feeling to how small our hero actually is. We have a bombed out nuclear wasteland in Las Vegas, a crumbling Earth, a boat graveyard filled with feral swamp people and a giant sea wall built to keep the tides of destruction at bay.
All this is coupled with a score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch that both simulates the original atmospheric electro, futuristic synth jazz and does something completely new. It is just as atmospheric and ear pounding, lending an extra level of immersion in an already captivating movie.
The story is similarly grandiose. A blend of film noir, science fiction and existentialism it, and the rest of the production design, hint at larger things happening just below the surface, but to go into detail would be spoiling the film and you should go into Blade Runner 2049 as free from spoilers and opinions as possible. Yes, the film is long, and some who are not used to the slower-paced film may find this film to be glacial in its plotting. However, to my mind, it never felt almost three hours long and was something I was completely absorbed in from start to finish; the longer takes and slower nature of the film, allowing us to stay and savour this unique world of Replicants and Blade Runners.
Leading up to the film’s release other filmmakers made little stories that build upon the hints to previous events in Blade Runner 2049. However, you do not have to watch these films if you don’t want to, they are little extras. The fact that Villeneuve hints at these historical events not just through characters talking about it, but in the construction of the world, is something to be commended, it is another top that Villeneuve has to keep spinning in order to make this film coherent and engaging.
This is all topped off with absolutely top-notch performances from Ryan Gosling as our central character K, while more emotional and talkative than the Driver in Drive, Gosling still uses his remarkably still face to do something remarkable. He can communicate subtle thoughts and emotions through the smallest eye movement. There are other great character actors like Ana de Armas as a holographic girlfriend Joi, who, despite her insubstantial nature, gives a weighty and substantial contribution to the film. Sylvia Hoeks is chilling as Luv, a relentless replicant with some serious issues Robin Wright, and Jared Leto as our antagonist, Niander Wallace, I could watch all day. They all commit to the world and disappear into the shadowy conspiracy-laden story. And of course, Harrison Ford is there growling his way through the latter part of the film.
I could go on forever about how great Blade Runner 2049 is. I could go on about the way that it looks, the score, the performances, but I shouldn’t because it would spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it. If you have yet to see it, go and do so now, this is a gorgeous film that deserves some big screen attention. Just do it, go on do it, watch it, watch the film, go out and watch it. Stop reading this review, buy a ticket to this movie and watch it!
You can watch Blade Runner 2049 in Cinemas now