Director: Denis Villenueve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford,
Review Author: Tony
Rating: 5/5 scotch whiskeys
Blade Runner is a masterpiece that came well before my time and due to this, I will always mourn the fact that I never witnessed the initial release where our vision for the future was forever changed. That’s not to say that the original Blade Runner does not still impress, it’s visuals still hold up to this today and after thirty years on we’ve seen countless films, series, and books inspired by this landmark film.
The first film is a prime example of the flexibility of Science fiction. At its core, the original Blade Runner is a neo-noir film with a crime to be solved and a disgruntled, hard-drinking detective not playing by the rules to get the job done. It’s a genre that thrived from the 20’s up to the 70’s. Blade Runner took this genre and added layers of depth with its dystopian setting bringing forth themes of technological advancement, the implications of genetic engineering, meeting our maker, and what it means to be human.
Blade Runner 2049 comes out over thirty years after the original and is helmed by one of the best directors working today, Denis Villenueve. Villeneuve’s filmography is jaw-dropping. He has gone from strength to strength with each film since Prisoners (2013). If it wasn’t for last years masterstroke, Hell or High Water, Arrival would have easily been my favourite film of that year. Arrival was a thought-provoking approach to my favourite genre (Science Fiction) that blew Interstellar, Gravity and the Martian out of the water (all great films in their own right).
Usually, I would divulge a short synopsis of the plot of the film but within the first five minutes of Blade Runner 2049, there’s a reveal that I did not see coming and it completely changed the dynamic of the film. I implore you to avoid as many reviews for the film until you have seen it as a few critics have foolishly spoiled this reveal.
Blade Runner 2049 is a beautifully crafted film by a bunch of great filmmakers, composers and cinematographers at the top of their game. This is a visual masterpiece as Roger Deakins recreates this harsh, crowded, neon-saturated world with such panache you’ll get lost in the beauty and craftsmanship. The original might have changed how we visualized future cityscapes, while Blade Runner 2049 gives a future that reflects our own technological advancements with neon marketing distracting from the brutalist architecture on closer inspection. This world feels lived in, shaped by generations of human advancement and in other areas, neglect.
A source of early disappointment for me pre-release was the exit of Jóhann Jóhannsson, composer, and regular collaborator with Villenueve. Jóhann has composed the score for three of Villeneuve’s films with each a master composition in their own right. Unfortunately, both chose to part ways during the post-production. Fortunately, Legendary composer Hans Zimmer and the newly acclaimed, Benjamin Wallfisch, came onboard and have produced one of the most impressive soundtracks of recent memory. The score is both haunting and thunderous. It hammers home just how vast this world is and the significance of events unfolding before your eyes. I must warn you that Blade Runner is a very loud film, but when it sounds this good a little deafness is a minimal side effect.
Visuals and audio aside, Blade Runner 2049 has done what many have considered impossible and expanded on what made the original so praised. While the scope of the film is certainly larger, it’s still a noir film at heart with a central mystery that also threads the line of the definitions of humanity and the ethics of scientific discovery. Gosling makes for an immensely compelling protagonist ,K, with a character arc that overshadows Deckard’s. The film is a slow burner like the original with a very methodical pacing. It has sprinkles of action and exciting set pieces but injects them only when suitable, the mystery instead takes most importance.
The supporting cast are all wonderfully realized, from Robin Wright’s cynical Lt. Joshi, Sylvia Hoeks as the brutal replicant enforcer Luv and a beautiful loving and vulnerable performance by Ana De Armas as Joi, K’s wife. In fact, K and Joi’s romantic subplot makes for some of the most compelling cinema this year as it skewers our beliefs of certain technology.
With a run time of 160 mins, Blade Runners length might be off-putting and its methodical pacing may be irritating for some, yet these elements didn’t bother me. On the contrary, I never wanted the movie to end. I felt like it built on the original and was created by people who truly loved and understood the original. It’s easily my favourite film of the year and while it’s too early to tell if it could be seen as a better film than the original. I’m so confident in this film I expect that those who were not fans of the original will be blown away by this fantastic sequel.