Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Starring: Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Ryan Gosling, Sylvia Hoeks
Running Time: 163 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
Amidst the crowd-pleasing antics of The Guardians of the Galaxy, the adrenaline pumping brilliance of Mad Max: Fury Road and the predictable box office explosion of the Star Wars revival, the sci-fi genre has experienced resurgence within the cinema going masses recently. It was inevitable that the long awaited follow up to the masterful tech noir Blade Runner would also be in consideration. Yet expanding the universe of such a renowned project struck more than a touch of uncertainty and fear amongst the movie connoisseurs around the world.
Preparations were meticulous with Ridley Scott being brought in to the pre-production team to oversee matters. The masterstroke was in the recruitment of Denis Villeneuve, the articulate director behind the heart breaking but beautifully constructed drama, Arrival. We might have witnessed an ill-conceived, fast paced thriller at the hands of the wrong director. With Villeneuve at the helm this was highly unlikely even if the recent promotional trailers hinted to bigger explosions and action set pieces.
Blade Runner 2049 is as sombre, atmospheric and technically beautiful as its predecessor. It revels in its visual grandeur and allows the viewer to saver the sights, sounds and emotions it creates within a generous but suitable running time. It is familiar but fresh, massive in scale but intricate in detail and invigorating but devastating in its delivery and revelations. Fans of the original have nothing to fear. This project is in safe hands from all concerned.
Blade Runner 2049 follows on 30 years after the original story. Deckard (Harrison Ford, the titular character) has disappeared into the wastelands with his lover, the Nexus-6 model, Rachael. The Tyrell Corp has crumbled allowing a new power to flourish under an uber-narcissist called Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). He hides his shady Nexus-9 project with media focus on the synthetic food operations supplementing the lack of food resources around the globe. He admires the lucrative opportunities of the late Tyrell’s work rather than the miracle and dangers surrounding it. His organisation becomes the first line of investigation after Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant designed Blade Runner, uncovers a critical key to the future of mankind and their continued superiority over replicants. Having despatched of an older Nexus model at a protein production plant, he stumbles across something buried outside that has him questioning his own identity and also has his corrupt police chief (Robin Wright) panicking. She abuses his inscribed obedience to undertake a swift cover-up mission. Having visited the data vaults of the Wallace Headquarters, K’s investigations are followed closely by Wallace’s assistant (Sylvia Hoeks), a character just as deadly and unpredictable as Rudger Hauer’s mesmerizing Roy Batty. His mission will ultimately lead him to the original Blade Runner, Rick Deckard but will his loyalties change? By revealing anymore will spoil the hidden secrets and delights of the story.
Having established that Blade Runner 2049 gets things right, the big question is whether it is better than the original? I have never hidden my admiration for Ridley Scott’s version of the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. To choose the greater of the two movies would be akin to being asked to choose your favourite child. If Blade Runner 2019 is the more ambitious and outgoing of the children then the original is the more subdued but talented of the offspring. They are both quite brilliant in their own right but have similarities in tone and nature. Both movies question our sense of identity and purpose and what characteristics deem us to be human and have a soul. It also identifies our need to group and socially segregate minorities within our society. As the humans scowl at K and his synthetic kind, a replicant prostitute targets his glamour android, Joi (Ana de Amas) as a lower denominator in the social pecking order.
The visuals and sets are as exemplary and awe inspiring as when you first watched the 1982 original. A feast for the senses with nods to retro brands such as Atari and Pan Am glittering through the LA industrial landscapes. The willingness to pause and focus on the smaller details are one of its biggest achievements. Complimenting the visual wonder is the booming, bass heavy score with touches of the haunting Vangelis original. Roger Deakins and Hans Zimmer are dead certs for Oscar wins for cinematography and score respectively.
The performances for the most part are exemplary. Ryan Gosling has played similar introverted outcasts in previous movies such as Drive and Only God Forgives. Albeit a key sequence in the final half of the movie, he keeps K’s cool and collective exterior intact while all manner of mental and physical abuse is being thrown at him. As an ageing Deckard, Harrison Ford portrays a tired and frightened old man who has sacrificed his own happiness to protect the ones that he loves. It marks the first time in years that Ford has had to flex his full range of acting skills. Latin actress Ana de Armas is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film as Gosling’s love interest. Both actors have wonderful chemistry in their scenes together. Her pleasure model character is designed to devote her life to her partner’s happiness. In one quite extraordinary sequence she displays the lengths to which she will go to achieve this goal. In a cyber kinky threesome, a scene that could have been laughable and clumsy in execution turns out to be one of the movie’s most genuinely touching moments. Even Dave Bautista, better known for his action roles, delivers an important cameo as a doomed Nexus-8 design and emits that overwhelming sense of sadness and fear running throughout the story. My only gripe would be the screen time given to Jared Leto and his sprawling dialogues. Whether it is the ability of Leto as an actor or the material that he has been given, I did switch off several times while he was on screen. This is disappointing given the wonderful screen presence of Joe Turkel as the original father of replicants, Eldon Tyrell.
There appeareed to be no strings of dialogue as strong as the original such as Tyrell’s, ‘The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long’ statement aimed at the alpha-male perfection of his Nexus-6 leader Roy Batty or the latter’s iconic ‘tears in the rain’ speech. However this was but a first viewing and I do aim to go experience this wonderful film again. Blade Runner 2049 still soars to sci-fi heights not yet reached since Duncan Jones outstanding Moon (2009). It is a rarity of a blockbuster. A meaningful and challenging piece of fiction that stops, breaths and observes whilst delivering the action and spectacle when and where required. Similar to Inception (2010) and Cloud Atlas (2012), this is a big budget risk that is not afraid to rely on the intelligence of its audience. Having read a recent American article discussing the lack of bums on seats during its opening weekend in the USA, I do prey that the movie is appreciated elsewhere around the globe.
We need the anomalies and enigmas. We need a Deckard present in the plethora of dull, repetitive action based blockbusters, delivering the challenging and original option over a safe money making tick list. Long live the Deckard.