A Villeneuvian work of glorious perfection.
Blade Runner carries a very particular legacy. Its release in 1982 was not met with soaring box office numbers. Rather, it has evolved over time, what with the eight different versions, five of which are readily available for purchase. This gave the original a withstanding, permanent curiosity for movie-goers. But with such a long-lasting, near-religious love attached to its seminal predecessor, a sequel to the noir-classic was proclaimed to be wildly un-makeable. Then Denis Villeneuve took the helm, one of the (if not the) most exciting directors today whose past films (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) are of such a calibre they could be listed under the sights Hauer’s Batty said we “wouldn’t believe”. The result is an astounding sci-fi spectacle that not only matches the brooding original, but supersedes it.
Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a detective who hunts down bio-engineered humans known as Replicants – aka a Blade Runner – stumbles upon a mysterious discovery when retiring (executing) a Nexus 8 Replicant. This discovery sparks an investigation with shattering consequences for K and the world around him.
The world first conceived on screen by Ridley Scott was never one worth trying to save. It was and still is a deeply troubling dystopia, rife with futuristic gadgets, artificial intelligence and heart-rending loneliness. That doesn’t mean to say things haven’t changed since 2019 Los Angeles. The ecosystem has collapsed, resources are drained, technology has advanced, the ominous “skin-job” creators in the form of the Tyrell Corporation are long-gone, now bought over by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who breeds new replicants and provides electronic companionship. The pixelated geishas whose portraits lit the metropolis are now fully-realised, nude holographic models.
The world is without a doubt a gorgeous spectacle, but it carries a bleak atmosphere, devoid of true happiness. We watch Officer K traversing the dreary monsoon, flying past the neon advertising, walking as a constant silhouette against the relentlessly dark backdrop, oozing a constant eeriness that emphasises the unhinged nature of his surroundings.
Gosling’s ice-cold-eyed performance is mesmerising. A more-than-suitable successor to Harrison Ford’s Deckard, this generation’s Blade Runner possesses a typical Gosling charisma, utilised to an even better effect than in Winding-Refn’s Drive and Only God Forgives. He portrays him well as a damaged agent of compliance aware of his lack of soul (Robin Wright’s police chief assures he’s being doing “fine without one”), but in need of more purpose in life, or at the very least, something real. His investigation through 2049 is revelatory in the grander sense and also personal, his relationship with Ana de Armas’ Joi being a source of conversation – is it morally sound to keep her alive in the form of a hologram?
The debate-sparking notions of the original are very much present here, as similar themes are tackled. The most obvious being what it means to be human, but also the segregation of societies (Wright exclaims “you break down that wall, you’ve bought yourself a war”). It’s for this reason that like the original, 2049 will stand the test of time.
This may be a blockbuster, but it’s not overtly appealing to the masses. The trailers may be designed in such a way this may be a worry, but its distinctively uncommercial in its flesh form. The action is succinct and effective, utilising short bursts of gun fire with gruesome, nasty results and rapid fisticuffs from Gosling to a painful, head-twisting effect. At 163 minutes, it demands your concentration but pays dividends to those who do. Soak yourself in the stunning world and you’ll never want to leave.
Ridley Scott may be an executive producer, but the credit is owed to Denis Villeneuve, and importantly, cinematographer Roger Deakins. His work here escalates the murky cityscapes and dusty, dusk-tinged desserts to high-art, each and every shot feeling hand-selected with a keen eye. Featuring some of the most beautiful shots ever filmed, this is an unparalleled achievement deserving of a golden statue come the new year. Villeneuve somehow has mastered what made the original so great and has brought it even further. This remarkably envisioned, disturbingly peculiar (and potential) future is of a towering achievement. Even the initially criminal lack of synth-messiah Vangelis isn’t felt sorely thanks to the magical, heart-rending, goosebumps-inducing capabilities of Hans Zimmer, who respects the originals beating electric heart, even composing a modern update of the powerful ‘Tears in Rain’ from the 1982 soundtrack.
Last but not least, Ford’s return as the legendary Deckard is more than glorified fan service. Rather, he is a genuine, integral part of the plot with development that tests Ford’s acting chops. His magical, consistently-likeable charisma fits the bill here, although don’t expect throwaway lines that disservice the character. Deckard remains a remarkable icon, played fantastically by Ford. Seemingly, there isn’t much criticised here. Leto’s megalomaniac, god-complex is perhaps not used to the villainous extent one would typically expect of such a creepy foe, but that would be applicable if this was a save-the-world story, which it’s not. By the end I was nearly moved to tears – not just because of what happened in the film, but the fact that something which has taken so long, could be so perfect. This is a moment in my movie-going life that will not be lost, as Hauer so famously noted, like “tears in rain”.