Before the press screening for Blade Runner 2049, a projected statement from the director implored critics to “preserve the experience for the audience” by not revealing the film’s twists before its theatrical release. So as to dodge any spoiler territory and preserve the plot, which in broad strokes concerns original replicant manufacturer Eldon Tyrell’s “final trick”, I shall brazenly paraphrase the original Blade Runner’s iconic death soliloquy: I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. A replacement director helming the belated and uncalled-for sequel to a cult classic. I watched a film that doesn’t tarnish the legacy of the original but resurrects its bleakly introspective spirit, and complements its timeless quality. Time to go to the biggest screen you can possibly find.
While no one can be completely shocked that this second chapter to the 1982 original is a resounding triumph, considering it was in the hands of the French-Canadian director who, from 2010s Incendies to last year’s Arrival, has not put a single foot wrong, coming out of Blade Runner 2049 is still disorientating. So much could have gone awry with this gargantuan and potentially opportunistic undertaking, but the level to which Denis Villeneuve has risen to the challenge of delivering a satisfying follow-up to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi cornerstone is nothing short of astounding. Arm in arm with veteran cinematographer and regular collaborator Roger Deakins, he has crafted an ambient noir mystery that rewards careful attention and is tonally in tune with the original’s dystopian themes and aesthetic. Remarkably, the director has gone further by pushing the boundaries of the sci-fi genre, creating a cinematic experience like few others. Make no mistake: Blade Runner 2049 is a visual tour de force, a masterstroke of foreboding beauty which boasts both Villeneuve’s and Deakins’ unique flair for the poetic, and spectacularly coalesces with CGI effects and Dennis Gasner’s towering production design. From the rainy cityscapes of Los Angeles to a deserted casino found within the titian hues of a sandy wasteland, via a watery lair fit for a Bond villain, practically every eye-bleeding frame could be proudly mounted on a wall. Moreover, they fizzle with gorgeous detail that will not only leave viewers drunk on their composition, but also tease out emotion and meaning.
Many will be quick to hail the film outright as a modern masterpiece, and while it comes so-very-close, the final act can’t quite paper over a few cracks. Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s screenplay may grapple compellingly with Phillip K. Dick’s philosophical quandaries about identity, purpose and empathy, but you can’t help but feel that by the end of the last third the storytelling can’t keep up and has taken a backseat to the jaw-dropping visuals. Ryan Gosling and a returning Harrison Ford populate the immersive world and their chemistry, as well as that between Gosling and his holographic squeeze (Ana de Armas, whose often poignant arc is strongly reminiscent of Spike Jones’ Her) is memorable enough to keep narrative momentum. However, it can’t quite sustain it till the end, as certain plot strands and characters (chiefly the villains, underwritten bum notes played by Jared Leto and the mite-too-cartoonish Sylvia Hoeks) merited more care and resolution. And this is an issue when the runtime is a sprawling two hours and 43 minutes…
That said, it’s hard to hold a lasting grudge when the cinematic experience is this atmospherically arresting and when you have Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s Vangelis-retooled score still ringing in your ears. There’s little doubt that Blade Runner 2049 has raised the bar once more for the sci-fi blockbuster genre and, like its predecessor, will be regarded as one of those once-in-a-generation films. If ever there is a third instalment – which does not seem completely out of the question considering certain loose threads – let’s hope Villeneuve answers the call, as he’s once again proven to be a master craftsman, one whose latest will make him the most sought-after director of his generation.
Blade Runner 2049 | Directed by Denis Villeneuve (US, Canada 2017), with Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto. Starts October 5
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