“…airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which [these] holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.”
There is a school of opinion that I’ve been made aware of a number of times since the release of Blade Runner 2049. It’s one that suggests the film is overlong and drawn-out, with a bloated sense of self-importance. Now, that’s a pretty harsh assessment in anyone’s book and not one that I necessarily agree with, yet it’s not entirely a mystery as to why such an exaggerated conclusion might have come about.
At getting on towards three hours in duration, Denis Villeneuve’s epic sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, Blade Runner, is certainly in no rush, and clearly not concerned with your average curtailed 2017 attention span, and other such modern phenomena.
There is also a propensity for Blade Runner 2049‘s early exchanges to veer towards technological overload at times with the director positively wallowing in gadget and technology porn, leaving us in no doubt whatsoever that this is a point in time in which there have been absolute quantum leaps beyond what would be considered high-tech in 2017.
Less prevalent is the incessant rain of Blade Runner, now largely replaced by an overcast, desolate and arid climate over which hangs a smog so thick you could cut it. Perhaps an indication of a planet whose raised mean temperature has ultimately led to water becoming something of a scarce resource?
The future Los Angeles cityscape that has been conjured up here is one in which holographic advertisements for everything from major corporations to virtual call girls reach out and interact with the public. And airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which these holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.
In amongst this rather soulless, gloom-sodden backdrop we are introduced to the story of ‘K’ (an appropriately dead-pan performance from Ryan Gosling), a replicant working for the LAPD, who, on successfully executing a mission to ‘retire’ one of the few remaining rogue replicants, stumbles upon the remains of a female replicant buried beneath a nearby dead tree. This in itself isn’t necessarily news-worthy, but the fact that the replicant appears to have died during caesarean childbirth having obviously been pregnant – an impossibility according to mainstream scientific thought – clearly is.
Such a scenario presents the possibility of a hugely volatile situation unfolding, deemed potentially explosive enough to cause great conflict between humans and replicants, and K is therefore instructed by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to track down the replicant child that had been born and eliminate it and all evidence that it had ever existed.
Blade Runner 2049 is noticeably built around a strong narrative, the slow and considered execution of which is very much to the benefit of the piece, building an introspective, mood-heavy work that offers its viewer ample time to consider and reflect upon the film’s myriad themes, not to mention opportunities to grapple with the film’s finer, slightly more cerebrally-taxing plot points.
Perhaps most impressive is its ability to elevate itself above 90% of any science fiction that has ever been committed to celluloid, by demonstrating considerable heart. Nowhere is this better exemplified than by way of K’s touching, if slightly unconventional relationship with his holographic other half, Joi (making full use of the seductive charms of Ana de Armas). Essentially, we’re talking about an android dating a moving picture here, yet Villeneueve successfully convinces us that such a scenario can be considered to be much more than just that, painting a picture of trust, intimacy, and dare I say it, something bordering on love? Not just a sequence of high-tech mechanics.
Joi’s frequent appearances are heralded by strains of Peter’s theme, from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Such a sonically beautiful interlude, no matter how brief, is a nice touch, and a refreshing reminder from within such a cold impersonal landscape, of the true essence of humanity and of genuine emotion; not to mention a nod no doubt to the enduring longevity of real works of art.
And talking of music: though lacking the soaring sonic themes of its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 – through the efforts of both Benjamin Wallfisch and the ever reliable Hans Zimmer – has at least tipped its hat to those sumptuous sensual swelling synth sounds of the magnificent Vangelis original, producing a soundtrack that, whilst unexceptional, at least offers some degree of continuity between the two films, and hence a reassuring familiarity.
Gosling, Wright and De Armas are joined in a strong cast by Jared Leto who puts in a powerful turn as Niander Wallace – a character that I felt a little more could have been made of – and naturally Harrison Ford is brought back in for a cameo role, reviving his portrayal of Rick Deckard, a move which thankfully proves to be far more than just a fleeting contractual obligation, with his character carefully and convincingly engrained into the film’s nuanced narrative.
It’s been 35 years now since Blade Runner first hit the big screen, and to even have attempted to create a sequel that does justice to the revered original was something of a bold move. The fact that Denis Villeneuve’s dystopian vision, whilst by no means perfect, not only doesn’t sour the lingering memory of one of the all time greats but proves to be a very fine film in its own right, is testament to the work of an excellent and courageous director.