Blade Runner 2049 Review
A young blade runner's discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who's been missing for thirty years.
My head was swirling as I left the cinema having just watched Blade Runner 2049. I sat in my car for 10 minutes just to process the film I had just watched -- pondering its beauty, its brutality and working my mind through the many questions it had left me. This is the sign of an amazing film -- an amazing piece of art -- that has your body overcome with a euphoria like I had, left wanting to dissect its pieces, for all the right reasons.
In the original Blade Runner, Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, a blade runner, goes on a mission to hunt down four rogue replicants who had recently made their way back to Earth on a mission to assassinate their creator at the Tyrell Corporation. In its essence, a simple story, but it is a simple plot and Blade Runner 2049 sets up a similarly simple plot. Ryan Gosling plays K, also a blade runner, who sets out on a relatively simple mission to retire (kill) the targeted replicants his Lieutenant gives him, before he uncovers a bigger story happening around him.
Step one to watching Blade Runner 2049 is to go online and watch the three short films (two live action, one animated) released for free before the film. They cover the years between the original and sequel, and will help give you an understanding of the political landscape after the first film, and what the new breed of replicants in Blade Runner 2049 are, and where they come from. It’s not necessary, but I’d highly recommend it.
Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel truer to its source than most. Everything from tone to visuals, sound design, music and characters are from the world Ridley Scott brought to life in 1982. Denis Villeneuve has crafted a perfect recreation of the world of Blade Runner and helped imagine what it’d be like 30 years since we last saw the grimy overcrowded streets in this neo-future.
Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original film's screenplay, returns to co-write with Michael Green and the two have crafted a wholly original story set in the world introduced to us in the original film, but built upon the themes and characters of the original so wonderfully. We didn’t need more from Rick Deckard -- we didn’t need to know what happened to his character after leaving him in either the original cut or the final cut of Blade Runner (there is a difference) -- but sometimes you don’t know what you need until you have it, and I needed more of his story.
The tone of the original film is one of the things that stand outs the most. Ridley Scott’s vision of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? wasn’t a vision of the future where things are happy and peaceful. It’s a vision of Earth coming to its end as humans look to the stars and look to colonise elsewhere, and those left on Earth are miserable. No one in Ridley Scott’s original film ever seemed happy, and no one smiles -- well, not until Deckard smiles at the woman he’s falling in love with, the replicant Rachael. Director Denis Villeneuve keeps the same character structure for everyone we meet in Blade Runner 2049. He also keeps the same amount of rain as seen in the original film, so prepare for lots of dreary scenes in the rain and characters looking lost and confused.
In that fashion, the film relies heavily on the back of its cast to give not grand, but earnest and believable performances. They need to be dry, and everyone involved delivers. Ryan Gosling is void of emotion for the majority of the film, and Ford too delivers a very controlled performance as it seems Deckard has lost even his nerves for jokes. Ana de Armas gives the most emotionally charged performance and Jared Leto does well not to cross the line to make a a cartoon character out of Niander Wallace, the mystical head of the company now manufacturing replicants.
Although Blade Runner 2049 has a similar set-up to the original film, including showing some beautiful slow panning aerial shots featuring the blasting synth score, it moves quickly with interesting elements Blade Runner never tackled. Spoiler alert (it's worth pointing out the trailers for this film didn’t spoil anything for me), but one story thread about K’s love interest is one of my favourite things about this film, and it’s worth pointing out just to note that, yes, like the original film this is a sci-fi neo-noir-apocalyptic-cyberpunk thriller, but it also has a romance and it’s great.
Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most visually impressive films I have ever seen. It’s stunning in everything from set design to the costumes, to the visual effects and it’s all put together by the fantastic pair that is Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins. The two have worked together for several of Denis’s past films, and this may just be their magnum opus. It’s the most beautifully realised sci-world I have seen on screen. Every inch of the world feels lived in and every single frame is a piece of art. If Roger Deakins doesn’t win the Oscar this year, something is wrong in the world. If you watched the trailer for Blade Runner 2049 and it had your mouth salivating with what you were seeing, it’s true, all of it -- it’s that stunning for all of its runtime. Deakins also proves he is the master of using lighting to his advantage here (again, something that always stands out from his work), as Blade Runner 2049 features such impeccably placed shots, using dark shadows wonderfully. This film is stunning.
Similarly to how everyone involved in the visual aspect of Blade Runner 2049 was able to build upon the original's look, Hanz Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch have built upon the original film's score from Vangelis. It continues the synth-filled sounds of the neo-future and it’s loud, ominous and dark. It’s the sound of Blade Runner as the speakers blare and K’s car flies over the cityscape, similarly to Deckard's in the original film.
Blade Runner 2049 builds upon the original film in such wonderful way as Denis Villeneuve has, like a student, studied and mastered the original blueprints of Ridley Scott's film and created this as not only a love letter to that film, but also to sci-fi. It’s mesmerising, intoxicating, and drags you into its world for nearly three hours, yet still I left wanting even more.
Directors: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, Philip K. Dick (based on characters from the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, Lennie James, Harrison Ford