Contains Potential Spoilers (never can be too sure!)
Carrying on from Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 centres around the Blade Runner known as “K” (Ryan Gosling) who soon comes to learn that replicants may very well have gained the ability to naturally reproduce and that a replicant baby was also born, hidden away from the rest of the world. With both the LAPD and replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) determined to find the child, unwilling to let such a thing exist, K works to unravel the mystery and to find the child, ultimately with the help of retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Starting off with the film’s biggest asset, the production design and cinematography is absolutely flawless; Roger Deakins has definitely proven to be one of the most prolific and accomplished cinematographers for quite some time and has been behind so many immaculately designed works such as Fargo, Sicario and Road to Perdition, to name but a few (I’m mentioning those in particular since Blade Runner 2049 shows off a whole range of varied set pieces that showcase snow, sand and rain – elements that Deakins has mastered in those films, respectively). With this film, he yet again proves that he’s an insanely talented artist as the visual quality of Blade Runner 2049 is arguably its biggest selling point; he effectively brings Blade Runner into the 21st century as every shot is painstakingly crafted, he successfully uses a very wide variety of colours and overall, there’s always something gorgeous to look at (and I’m not just talking about Ana de Armas! Hey-o!) The film’s design remains faithful to the original 1982 film and as such, the “spinners” are brilliantly updated and the futuristic advertisements are very effectively modernised, never overused or overwhelming.
It’s a huge shame that Johan Jóhannsson didn’t complete his work on this film (a Villeneuve/Jóhannsson collaboration is always a match made in heaven!) but the equally as legendary Hans Zimmer, along with Benjamin Wallfisch, takes the reigns and gives us a score that pays homage to the original film music and effectively sets a whole variety of moods, builds up the tension brilliantly, and is overall appropriately compelling and otherworldly. But I have to say that I don’t think that the score will go down in history as a classic (time may undoubtedly prove me wrong, there!) and it could never be as memorable as Vangelis’ original masterpiece construction.
As for the story itself, it very effectively and cleverly incorporates particular moments/characters/themes from the original while also finding its own path and telling its own unique tale, continuing the Blade Runner story in a way that has been very carefully planned, thoughtfully brought to life and it never feels obvious or lazy, as inferior “cash grab” sequels tend to do. While I honestly think that the plot is stretched out a little bit, not quite having enough material for its very generous runtime, it is still a thoughtful, intelligent script that doesn’t spoon feed you the answers and it effectively gets you to engage with the material and to think hard about what’s going on. The story expands on the Blade Runner philosophy and effectively covers issues of evolution, ethics and reproduction (much like Battlestar Galactica did, now that I think about it) with great care and feeling.
Blade Runner 2049 boasts a hugely talented cast, full of familiar faces as well as new additions and although some performers have less screen time than others, absolutely no one is wasted and everyone makes a significant impact, regardless of how long they’re on screen. Taking the lead, Ryan Gosling is ideally cast as young Blade Runner “K”; ice-cold and effortlessly cool, he manages to show a very varied range of emotions, primarily through some extensive eye-acting, and is overall a very fine fit in the Blade Runner universe, throwing himself brilliantly into the action sequences and confidently dominating proceedings. Of course, Rick Deckard himself, Harrison Ford returns and he and Gosling work well together; I don’t think that Deckard was ever Ford’s most fully developed character but here, he gets some fascinating new character development that casts the original film in a whole new light and here, Ford shows some genuine, heartfelt emotion, giving Deckard some much needed depth and empathy.
Elsewhere, Ana de Armas (a favourite for the guys for MANY years to come, I’m sure) is perfectly intriguing and lovable as Joi, apparently an amalgam of Siri, Alexa and Samantha from Her – especially apt seeing as how there’s a scene with her, Gosling and Mackenzie Davis that was undeniably inspired by an eerily identical scene in Her. Although she would have made a PERFECT replicant in my opinion, Robin Wright manages to be ice-cold, prejudiced and domineering as well as loyal, tough and supportive as Joshi, K’s Lieutenant, Dave Baustina has a brief but incredibly memorable and important part as one of K’s targets and Sylvia Hoeks is absolutely stone cold, dangerous and genuinely intimidating as replicant enforcer Luv. Jared Leto is also a fascinating presence in the film and it’s actually a bit of a shame that he wasn’t in it a little more (an obvious contrast to Suicide Squad!). Despite having a tenancy to waffle on a bit about certain nonsensical philosophical constructs, his is a fasinatingly designed character who I wish that we could have learned a bit more about.
The film’s only real problem is that is too slow for its own good; some may call the film “slow and boring” but while it is never boring, it is undeniably slow. The majority of the film exists to show off its immaculate design and stunning cinematography but while it’s doing this, pacing becomes a bit of an issue as the plot is stretched a bit too thin, there’s padding in certain areas and it seems like Villeneuve should have been reigned in a little bit, making the film just a teensy bit more compact, rather than continually showing off its impressive design.
But all in all, Villeneuve has yet again proven that he’s one of the most consistent directors working today, continually giving us films of the highest quality and Blade Runner 2049 would appear to be the culmination of all his impressive work so far. I’m not going to say I loved it, because I honestly didn’t, but still, the film is fully deserving of so much praise and if you tell me that it’s a masterpiece, I won’t disagree with you.