Blade Runner 2049


Director: Denis Villenueve.
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi, Lennie James, Edward James Olmos, David Dastmalchian, Hiam Abbass, Tómas Lemarquis, Wood Harris, Elarica Gallacher, Vilma Szécsi, Mark Arnold, Loren Peta.

“They all think it’s about more detail. But that’s not how memory works. We recall with our feelings. Anything real should be a mess”

We now find ourselves in an age where the filmmaking craft is so preoccupied with making money that it hinders the art form itself and saturates the market with crowd-pleasing dross. The rise of the superhero blockbuster has played a huge part in this and, as result, the creative and artistic nature of Blade Runner 2049 has become a casualty. Like Ridley Scott’s film before it, it has proven to be a box-office failure and despite the desire to provide sequels, the masses simply weren’t interested in this one. But 2017 took the sequel to a whole new level. They weren’t just money-spinning exercises but revisits to much loved cult classics that were intent on exploring their characters in a whole new depth: 20 years after the drug-addled exploits of Trainspotting, Danny Boyle brought a satisfying maturity to T2 while, 25 years later, David Lynch revisited the quaint logging town of Twin Peaks with The Return – a deeply surreal 18 episodes that has reinvented the way that television can be viewed. Going even further back than that, Denis Villenueve revisits Blade Runner after a 35 year hiatus and relieves my nervous disposition with the impressive completion of a 2017 hat-trick.

Plot: Former blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been missing for thirty years and now LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), has taken over the role of “retiring” replicants that don’t conform to society. When K unearths a secret that has the catastrophic potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos, he has to find Deckard to get answers to what actually happened after he disappeared.

A lot of credit must be given to director Denis Villenueve for taking on one of the biggest gambles in filmmaking history. To take on the unenviable task of delivering a sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, Blade Runner, shows real, self-assured confidence. Villenueve took the task on simply because he thought he could do a serviceable job while fans of the original (myself included) had strong reservations about a sequel even happening in the first place. As is always the case, however, the proof is in the end result and I couldn’t be more happy that Villenueve has been vindicated. His vision of Blade Runner both expands upon its predecessor while also complimenting it’s narrative depth and ethereal beauty.

Villenueve’s decision to open on a close-up shot of an iris is an obvious choice – with perhaps the only thing missing being a referential wink to the audience. Within seconds he goes on to depict an expansive, genetic farming land that’s as desolate as it foreboding and already the opening “Hades Landscape” of the original springs to mind as Hans Zimmer creatively riffs on the iconic Vangelis score and manages that fine balance of reminiscence and originality. From here on, it’s clear that we’re back on Blade Runner territory and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it felt good.

There are many subtle references to the original throughout the entirety of the film but Villenueve is clever enough to make this film his own without succumbing to a pastiche. His deliberate pace will ostracise many viewers but it’s entirely in keeping with the films meditative themes and allows cinematographer Roger Deakins the luxury of immersing us in this dystopian, retro-future with an abundance of gorgeous imagery. There’s not a single frame wasted as Deakins delivers one of the most beautiful pieces of work ever committed to the screen. This visual genius has been nominated for an Oscar 13 times and he’s lost every time. If there’s any justice at all, he should win on his 14th attempt with this. This truly is a remarkable artistic achievement.

Such is the visual mastery, you could be forgiven for getting lost in Deakins’ sumptuous scenery and miss key elements to the plot but Villenueve, or more particularly screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, explain things in relative layman’s terms. It’s not difficult to follow but sometimes can border on cliché and convenience. I didn’t fully buy into some plot developments but the questions left from Deckard’s past were, somewhat, unavoidable and this film provides some answers which slightly take away from the original’s ambiguity. That said, it’s an unavoidable line that had to be crossed and it’s afforded a lot of care and respect.

Although, the narrative is fairly simple the similar weighty existential and metaphysical themes are prevalent again. Where the first film explored the nature of existence, 2049 takes it slighter further and ruminates in what it constutes to have a soul and if you’re looking for a reliable lead that can convey such world-weariness then look no further than Ryan Gosling. Gosling has fast become a physical master of minimalism and, as he has already proven in Drive or Only God Forgives for example, he can convey internal struggle by practically doing nothing – which makes him absolutely perfect casting here and apparently the first (and only) choice that Villenueve had in mind. He shoulders a lot of the philosophical weight of the film and holds things together when the pace is lesuirely and there’s the overhanging (and overbearing) 1 hour 40 minute wait for Deckard to even appear onscreen. It’s a wait that’s worth it though, as it kicks the film into another gear and brings with it Harrison Ford’s best performance in years. There’s also more than able support from Ana de Armas as a complex hologram that longs for emotional connection and a megalomaniac Jared Leto with delusions of godliness. In other words, Blade Runner 2049 is a splendid refurbishment and a genuinely astounding spectacle that manages to hit the beats of the original yet still find its own rhythm.

Some critics have have went as far to claim that this is an improvement over the original. Although I wouldn’t go as far as that, this is still a magnificent continuation of the mythos. The only sour note is that it descends into slightly generic action material towards the end which jars with the deliberate and meditative tone that preceded it. That said, it manages to turn this around and when credits rolled, I found myself in contemplative silence, exhilarated by what I had just witnessed. Sequels that can achieve such a balance and expansion on their much loved predecessors are a rarity and, as a result, 2049 can take a bow and is fully deserving of a rapturous applause. Villenueve has only gone and made things we fans couldn’t believe – a worthy sequel on the shoulders of a giant.

Mark Walker

Trivia: David Bowie was Denis Villeneuve’s first choice for the role of Niander Wallace (played by Jared Leto) but passed away before the start of shooting.

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19 Responses to “Blade Runner 2049”

  1. Great review Mark; I too was a big fan of 2049. On paper, this is a sequel that shouldn’t work, and yet Villenueve manages to bring new light to the original.

    Would have really liked to have seen Bowie play Wallace, another reason to miss him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, man. I had big reservations on this one. So much so, that I put it off for ages. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it and be left disappointed. It would have broke me.

      As a result, when I did go into it I was looking for flaws. I did find some but they were nit-picking at best. This is an outstanding continuation of the original. I was very, very impressed. Bravo Denis Villenueve (and Roger fuckin’ Deakins)!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Five big old fat stars! Nice. I’ve been putting a review of this together for weeks. I agree, I wouldn’t go as far as to call it better than the original, but it’s really good. I think it’s because Villeneuve makes every attempt to keep that same look, tone, and vibe of the original. It works so good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my goodness, yes! I am so pleased you finally saw this and that you loved it Mark! I thought it was a bloody good movie, and it looked and sounded amazing. Ah, yes, so looking forward to rewatching this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Can’t for a rewatch myself. It was absolutely superb. All I was looking for was for it to do the original justice and it done just that. In fact, it went even further and stands as a outstanding movie in its own right. This is how sequels should be done.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Man oh man was this a journey! The seeds of my fandom for Blade Runner were sewn rather late I have to say; I only managed to catch Ridley’s a few weeks (maybe as long as a month) prior to tripping out to see 2049. Therefore I hadn’t allowed much dust to settle from the first. I don’t know if I fully was able to process how great that original before this gigantic thing swept over me. But when this one was over, I suddenly had a much greater appreciation of what Ridley did back in 1985. I mean, these are such strong — dare I say it believable — visions of the future how can a sci fi fan NOT fall in love with them? Theyre pretty perfect. And Gosling (and Leto) slotted perfectly into this system. Brave new world here.

    And speaking of, how is it that I have STILL not seen T2?! Man I have totally forgot about that sequel dammit

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aah! That’s interesting that even the original is new to you. I don’t know how I’d have felt with that. Blade Runner has been a favourite of mine since I was a teenager. It didn’t even need a sequel but I’m so glad it was given one that compliments it. This was outstanding stuff and I’d also say it’s Villenueve’s best film so far. It doesn’t quite beat the original for me but I don’t have many complaints about it.

      And, yeah, T2 was another great revisit. A very different one from the original but, again, it compliments its predecessor. It’s worth a look.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It feels different than a sequel in some ways. I look at these two films as two essential parts, one is not complete without the other. Sequels often feel like extraneous parts that don’t need to exist even if they are fun. But this, like with Alien/Aliens, seem to share a deeper relationship with each other. And I do not know if this would have worked out this way if 2049 were helmed by any other director.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, that’s a great point. It’s not often that we’re afforded such commitment. They do compliment each other perfectly. Although, I wouldn’t say that 2049 is a stand-alone film but the original can still be viewed as such. That said, 2049 also left things open for another possible instalment. Personally, I’d leave things as they are now but I suppose the possibilities are endless.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review. I also loved that film, but probably less than you. I was so pleased to find out that Villeneuve was very considerate with the plot and paid more than due respect to the original. That care for the original film is everywhere in the new film. Although I generally love enigmatic films, I only just wished it were not so enigmatic and explained a little bit more the content. When I watched it it felt sometimes that visuals were the only thing mattering in the film, and the plot was subordinated to it. Perhaps, I should re-watch it, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Villenueve done a fantastic job for me. It actually exceeded my expectations. I expected to find a lot more faults with it than I did. I agree that the visuals somewhat overshadowed the plot but I actually found it quite easy to follow and any enigmatic approaches were a bonus. It wouldn’t have been complimentary to original without a little enigma thrown it for good measure. Glad to hear you’re a fan also, though. I really couldn’t have asked for any more.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent review, really enjoyed and echo of your thoughts and feelings about this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Denis Villenueve manages to do what most thought he’d fail at and provides a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s 80’s, sci-fi classic. Sequels that can achieve such a balance and expansion on their much loved predecessors are a rarity and, as a result, 2049 can take a bow. Gorgeous cinematography, stunning production design and deeply philosophical storytelling. As a huge fan of the original, even I didn’t expect this to work as well as it does. 2017’s biggest gamble turns out to be the best film of the year. Full review here. […]

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