By Jim Mackney
“Blade Runner 2049” is directed by “Arrival” director, Denis Villeneuve and executively produced by original Blade Runner director, Ridley Scott. The sequel takes place 30 years after the previous film and continues along the same existential lines; questioning the characters position in the world and what it means to be alive.
There was a moment in the film when I realised there had been very few ‘set pieces’. This isn’t in any way intended as criticism. In fact I wish to praise what is ultimately a sci-fi epic, for feeling like an intimate character study. An art house blockbuster, if you will. Due to a noticeable lack of crash-y, bash-y, smash-y action, “Blade Runner 2049” needs to build its storyline and characters well, which it does with aplomb. Original Blade Runner writer Hampton Fancher reprises his writing duties alongside co-writer Michael Green to pen the film’s screenplay, and the world they have created is dank and dark; filled with acid rain, gigantic neon advertising signs and morally desolate hedonistic past times. The film is not afraid to deal in existential anxieties and the slow edited style of the piece is completely at odds with today’s frantic blockbusters.
Ryan Gosling plays replicant hunter K, who has the job of hunting down replicants who need to be “retired”, replicants who are essentially beyond their expiry date. Gosling’s performance is up to his expected standard of gruff, near-silent charm and he is able to draw the audience in with a simple look. At the beginning of the film, during a visit by K to android Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), Morton taunts K claiming that this deadpan hunter can only do his job because he’s ‘never seen a miracle’. As the action builds outwards from this point, K will be haunted by the phrase as he, and the audience, tries to unravel its meaning.
K lives in a small, brutalist apartment with his romantic love interest Joi (Ana de Armas). Joi is a holographic artificial intelligence, similar to Samantha in Spike Jonze’s “Her”. de Armas’ performance is excellent; capably inferring a great deal of heart and soul into what is essentially a computer-generated image, no mean feat. The film uses a visual motif that advertises Joi and how “she” will ‘tell you anything you want to hear’. This visual motif of their relationship adds a level of depth to K’s emotional journey and although he is a replicant and incapable of true human emotion this unzipping of K’s character has wider ramifications to the films central narrative.
Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) is the villain of the piece along with his ass-kicking minion, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Leto is suitably engrossing but his performance risks accusations of “hamming it up”. The true danger comes from Luv, when she is on screen she bristles with a cold, calculated fury that is enchantingly watchable.
Full credit must go to the duo of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins as director and cinematographer. Villeneuve has managed to imprint his own take on the world set up by Ridley Scott and added depth to create his version that is eminently futuristic and believable. The direction is sharp and ordered, with the use of wide shots allowing Deakins’ almost palpable cinematography to take hold. Watching the film unfolding in front of me felt both completely alien and somewhere I never wanted to leave. At one moment, the screen is filled with a piercing ochre hue with K standing alone in the middle of the screen (the image felt very Kubrickian), walking into the unknown and at that moment it didn’t matter what happened next or where K went, I wanted to follow. I have been unable to shake the image since.
Harrison Ford’s reprising of his role as Deckard is integral to the success of the film: his role twists the narrative ends together and grounds the film in its shattering conclusion. Although Ford isn’t on screen for the longest time, his performance is a towering achievement that adds needed emotional heft and pushes the film beyond very good to greatness.
“Blade Runner 2049” is a sterling achievement, one that doesn’t compensate on any level. It asks challenging questions of its audience and doesn’t offer easy answers. It is presented as a fully realised product and one that reminds audiences that cinema can be both a form of brilliant escapism and brilliant heart.
In cinemas now.