Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Dave Bautista, Hiam Abbass, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi, Lennie James.
Blade Runner 2049 is the latest film from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who has an impressive track record that includes Incendies, the psychological thriller Prisoners, the war on drugs thriller Sicario, and the sci-fi drama Arrival. Here he returns to the sci-fi genre, with this visually stunning and stylish long anticipated sequel to the cult classic Ridley Scott’s 1982 futuristic noir fantasy Blade Runner.
Blade Runner is a cult classic whose reputation has grown over time. The original film was based on prolific author Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? An overarching mystery from the film though was whether its central character Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) was human or a replicant. At the end of the original, Deckard had fallen in love with Rachael (Sean Young) and had given up pursuing replicants. The film’s original ending was deliberately ambiguous. Two alternative cuts of the film – including one director’s cut which removed all of Ford’s voice over narration – have attempted to answer that question. In this sequel, set thirty years after the original, there is an answer of sorts.
Written by Hampton Fancher (who wrote the screenplay for the original) Blade Runner 2049 expands on the mythology of this grim futuristic world. There are numerous references and thematic links to the original, although there are also some new touches – the wooden unicorns that were so important in the original have now been replaced by wooden horses. Those intimately familiar with the original will certainly appreciate the film more than audiences who have not seen Scott’s film. It is more moody and contemplative in nature, and explores big themes about technology, artificial intelligence, offering up a meditation on existence and what it means to be human.
The film is set in a grey dystopian world of Los Angeles circa 2049. A digital blackout has wiped out most of the stored records of details about replicants (artificial humans who were used for slave labour and menial or dangerous jobs until they rebelled). The Tyrell corporation, which had produced the synthetic humans known as replicants has gone out of business. Now the Wallace Corporation produces replicants that are supposedly safer. Its blind CEO Niander Wallace (played by Jared Leto) has perfected a new breed of replicants, the Nexus 9 model, who are more trustworthy and supplicant. He is also responsible for initiating a cleansing program in which special police officers, known as blade runners, track down and kill the obsolete models.
K (played by Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the LAPD and is charged with tracking down and eliminating the older rogue Nexus 8 model replicants who have gone into hiding. K has superior physical strength and forensic analytical abilities, which makes him perfect for his job. But he is also beginning to have doubts about his work. After completing his assignments K also undergoes a rigorous debriefing via the Voight-Kampff tests, which Deckard used to administer in the original, to check that he still is focussed.
But this is a fairly soulless world without much in the way of emotional connections. K has a holographic girlfriend named Joi (Ana de Armas), who is his sole emotional contact in this bleak world. De Armas brings unexpected warmth to her role, and there is one brief and bizarre sex scene between K and Joi, in which she uses an avatar to bring him pleasure.
During his latest investigation, K uncovers a box of thirty-year old replicant bones, and this discovery threatens to shake up long accepted theories about the replicants. K is forced to look for Deckard, who has been living off the grid for the past three decades. He finds him hiding out in a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas.
Villeneuve has crafted a bleak dystopian future world here and his style is a match for Scott’s original. Roger Deakins’ cinematography captures a bleak and grey and polluted LA awash in dirty rain, and he gives the film a noir-like feel. The only colour can be found in the garish VR advertising signs featuring logos for Coca-Cola, Sony and, somewhat anachronistically, Pan-Am. These are a carry-over from the original. He also employs a burning, bright orange colour palette for the scenes set in an irradiated Las Vegas wasteland. There is some stunningly stylish production design from Dennis Gassner (Skyfall, etc) that has a cold and almost antiseptic touch to it. The booming score and sound scape from Hans Zimmer and Bernard Wallfisch is suitably ominous and unnerving.
Gosling is perfectly cast as K, and he has a stolid and humourless presence that suits his character. He is intense but also brings an unexpected emotional depth to his performance. Gosling seems to choose interesting filmmakers to work with. Audiences though have to wait nearly two hours before Ford shows up, but he brings his typically gruff, grizzled and surly quality to his older version of Deckard. Robin Wright has a strong presence as Lt Joshi, K’s boss in the LAPD; Jared Leto is wasted in a small role as the blind Wallace, the millionaire head of the Wallace corporation, while Sylvia Hoeks has a menacing presence as Luv, his ruthlessly efficient assassin. There are also cameos from Edward James Olmos, reprising his role as Deckard’s former partner Gaff, and a digitally recreated Sean Young.
Blade Runner 2049 is an intelligent, visually audacious, profound and bold sequel to Scott’s classic sci-fi film. But at an overly-generous 163 minutes this flawed film is a little too long, and the pacing is a little uneven. The opening scenes are a little sluggish, and it lacks that air of mystery of the original. Whether this new take on the concept will achieve the same cult status remains to be seen.