Blade Runner 2049

Posted: October 21, 2017 in Film reviews, science fiction
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Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.

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“Aren’t you a little short for a Blade Runner?”

After concerns about Nexus 8 Replicants rebelling against their human masters, such artificial lifeforms were outlawed, only to be replaced by the far more compliant Nexus 9 models. Still many Nexus 8, and earlier models, still exist and must be hunted down. K (Gosling) is a Blade Runner working for the LAPD and specifically for Lt. Joshi (an excellent Robin Wright). After tracking down a rogue Nexus 8 named Sapper Morton (the always great Dave Bautista) K stumbles upon a thirty-year-old mystery, and investigating this mystery will lead him towards a former Blade Runner who’s been in hiding. A man named Rick Deckard…

Ok first things first. This will be, as much as possible, a spoiler free review.

Secondly. I found the first half an hour or so of this film hard going. On the up side this left another 2 ¼ hours that I loved (and I suspect on second viewing it’ll be the whole film I love.)

The notion of a sequel to 1982’s cult classic has always seemed a shaky proposition, especially once you factor in Ridley Scott’s involvement and the fact that his attempts to reinvigorate another film franchise he started have been somewhat ropey to say the least (the best things you can say about Prometheus and Covenant is that they look pretty, and that Michael Fassbender’s a good actor working with terrible material).

What gave me hope was the presence in the director’s chair of Villeneuve. His last two films were Scicario and Arrival, and if you’ve read my reviews you’ll know I loved ‘em both.  Villeneuve is a very good director, and in partnership once more with cinematographer Roger Deakins (whom he worked with on Scicario) and working with a script cowritten by Hampton Fancher (one of the original’s screenwriters) he has achieved that most rare of things, a decades later sequel that’s actually very good.

Be under no illusions, Blade Runner 2049 is better than it has any right to be. The filmmakers have crafted a visually stunning masterpiece here that feels utterly like a continuation of Blade Runner, whilst telling a much broader story.

The scope and attention to detail here are amazing. Earlier in the year Ghost in the Shell looked pretty, but it was hollow, little more than painted facade. Blade Runner 2049 is the real deal, portraying a fully rounded future world that utterly convinces as an evolution of LA in 2019.

Which is not to suggest that the film is all style and no substance. It’s true the script may not quite live up to the visuals, but that doesn’t mean it’s a failure, and the film has a lot to say about the nature of humanity, about belief, truth, memory, sacrifice and specifically about slavery.

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La La Land 2049 took everyone by surprise.

 

Ryan Gosling is superb, initially playing K very enigmatically (much like his eponymous Driver) gradually he lets the walls come down as time and truths break down K’s psyche. He’s a very different kind of Blade Runner to Deckard, although they share the same melancholic loneliness, only in K’s case it’s mitigated somewhat be his “relationship” with Joi (Ana de Armas) his holographic AI girlfriend. It’s testament to the script and de Armas’ performance that Joi feels more human than some of the human characters, but it’s never forgotten that she is as much a slave as any replicant.

Of course K isn’t the only Blade Runner here, because there’s the return of Harrison Ford (hardly a spoiler unless you’ve managed to avoid any poster or trailer in the last few months!). Harrison’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance lately is fair, and it is odd that he’s returning to franchises he had distanced himself from for so long, but it’s great to see him back here, even if it isn’t quite as lump in the throat inducing as his return as Han.

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“That’s not how replicants work!”

If there’s an issue with Ford it’s mainly down to him not being in the film as much as you might have hoped, although it’s way more than a fleeting cameo appearance and he is integral to the plot. He takes grizzled to a whole new level and he and Gosling bounce well off each other. He also gets the chance to properly act when…well, that’d be telling.

Rounding out the cast are Jered Leto, who isn’t terrible, but is saddled with a somewhat two-dimensional villain role. Thankfully he isn’t in it much. Much more present is Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) an unstoppable replicant enforcer who makes Roy Batty look like a fluffy bunny. Hoeks is superb, scary and menacing yet capable of charm as well, though it’s a shame a certain emotional affectation is never really explained.

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“All right, Luv, no need to get angry. You can have another drink.”

I won’t go into the plot too much, except that to say this is a film that did manage to surprise me a couple of times, and one rug pull in particular I did not see coming.

There have been complaints that the film is misogynistic and objectifies women, and whilst I can see where these arguments are coming from, I think the film is far more nuanced than initial appearances suggest. There are multiple strong female characters, and whilst in many cases they’re slaves lacking true free will, it can be argued that pretty much every character in the film, from human to replicant to AI hologram, is a slave to something, be it only an idea, and even Leto’s Niander Wallace is enslaved to the idea of progress.

The notion of free will is prevalent throughout, and whilst the film obviously riffs on the original Blade Runner, these riffs are expertly done, and echo the past without plagiarising it. The film also owes a lot to other sources, from obvious ones like the story of Pinocchio, to more left field influences; there’s more than a passing nod to Dickens here, especially in the form of an orphanage owner played by Lennie James who evokes Oliver Twist’s Mr Bumble, even down to his outfit.

It’s a long film, but I can honestly say that I didn’t want it to end, so immersed in the world had I become. Quite possibly one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen, and the sound design is equally impressive, with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score again evoking Vangelis without copying him.

Beautiful and heartrending, Blade Runner is a triumph and easily one of my top three films of the year. Go see it!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wasp crawling on my arm…

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By 2049 you’ll have to go a long way to find a parking space.

 

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