Above all else, Blade Runner 2049 is a BEAUTIFUL film. Extraordinarily gorgeous, it’s as pretty as cinema gets.
For the visuals it serves up, it will be fully deserving of all of the acclaim that is certain to come its way. With deep shadows, a striking contrast between darkness and light combined with vibrant blues and oranges, it brings an arresting tech-noir palette to the screen. It follows in the footsteps of its 1982 predecessor, with glaring neon lights reflecting off the rain-soaked Los Angeles streets, whilst at the same time expanding on and developing that film’s iconic style. The man behind all of this being thirteen-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s previously been snubbed for his work on True Grit, Sicario and No Country for Old Men (that one being particularly baffling), to name but a few. This one, however, should absolutely see him cleaning up come awards season.
Director Denis Villeneuve is also likely to be joining him in the hunt for award glory, even if his spot as frontrunner feels ever so slightly less nailed on. What 2049 does do, however, is cement him as one of the most interesting and exciting directors working in Hollywood today. He’s managed to craft a thought-provoking, deep-meaning blockbuster worthy of the Blade Runner name. It’s not the best of his work (that feat falling to last year’s Arrival), but it is impeccably crafted filmmaking nonetheless; despite teetering towards self-indulgence on the odd occasion. Not that it outstays its welcome at all, even if it could be argued that 10 minutes of pensive staring might have been trimmed to up the tempo a touch (without losing the quiet broodiness of it all). Or, in the least, this time could have been repurposed towards helping to tie up a few of the tantalisingly dangling loose ends Villeneuve leaves at the climax.
Comparatively, the 1982 film was a streamlined tale. One hardboiled detective – an artificial intelligence Replicant hunting “Blade Runner” called Deckard (Harrison Ford) – and his search for four missing targets in the futuristic, rundown and polluted city of L.A.; a narrative chock full of metaphors and thematic density. This is a more complex beast, something signalled by the sprawling runtime. Which allows for an expansion of the universe, and the chance to venture out of the city that confined the first film, while still offering thematic exploration aplenty. There’s much to pick through here; deliberations on what it is to be human, what it is to sacrifice, the meaning of family and belonging, humanity’s treatment of the planet, pollution and power. Wading through this metaphorical minefield is Ryan Gosling’s Replicant Blade Runner K (later dubbed Joe), who stumbles upon a revelation capable of changing the world as he knows it, simultaneously tapping into secrets in his own past he’d kept locked away.
Most every character he encounters as he digs into the truth beneath his discoveries has a meaningful purpose, furthering the story and adding depth. Switch off, pop to the loo, or lose focus at your own peril. And each is portrayed with wonderful nuance. Be it Dave Bautista’s bruising Replicant Sapper Morton. The creator of Replicant memories, Dr. Ana Stelline (the excellent Carla Juri). Jared Leto’s builder of Replicants with a serious God complex, Niander Wallace (less subtle, yet equally memorable). His fiercely loyal Replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). And then, of course, there’s the returning – and particularly grizzled – Harrison Ford as Deckard, used sparingly and to great effect. The performances are top drawer, not least of all the still, powerful turn from Gosling, and the wasted elements are few and far between.
There were thirty-five years between Blade Runner and 2049. Thirty-five years of deliberation and discussion over the original film’s ending, and reverence for its now much-copied style and its exhilarating score (which is an absolute beauty this time around as well). There might not be quite as much to debate here to sustain us for another period of such a length, but the visuals will surely be discussed with adoration for years to come.
Rating (out of 5):