BLADE RUNNER 2049
By Nathan Evans
I’ve began many a film review by discussing just how difficult the task of reviewing a particular film might be. Usually it’s because a film’s plot might be shrouded in secrecy and I can’t quite tackle my viewpoint on it without spoiling aspects of the movie. While that’s partly the case with Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2049’, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 science fiction masterpiece, ‘Blade Runner’, the real issue here is my enthusiasm for the film.
Admittedly that may not make a lot of sense.
Let me explain.
‘Blade Runner 2049’, much like its predecessor, has the trappings of everything I want from a movie. A dark, gritty, yet beautiful science fiction setting that feels like a living, breathing world; a classic detective noir flavor that’s used to tackle deep philosophical questions about humanity, love, and reality; stunning women, hard drinking men, long coats, brutal and dirty action sequences— I could go on. With that said, the difficulty in reviewing a film like ‘2049’ is remaining impartial, examining the film objectively. So while you’re reading through the following, glowing review, you might be inclined to dismiss it as the sycophantic ramblings of a fanboy. Please know that I made every effort to write a fair and balanced review.
It’s not my fault the film’s damn near perfect.
‘Blade Runner 2049’ stars one of today’s strongest working actors, Ryan Gosling, as a man named ‘K’. Like Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in the original film, ‘K’ is a blade runner: an officer working for the LAPD in charge of hunting down and “retiring” (killing) rogue replicants; androids constructed from human material that are used for slave labor on off-world colonies. In the course of hunting down a hulking replicant named Sapper Morton (‘Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista) ‘K’ stumbles upon a secret pertaining to the replicants that’s powerful enough to upset the tenuous balance between the humans and the androids they’re subjugating.
As ‘K’’s investigation deepens, he draws the attention of the scrupulous CEO of the Wallace Corporation, Niander Wallace (‘Requiem for a Dream’s Jared Leto). For his own reasons, Wallace, the man responsible for humanity’s continued existence on a planet nearly completely drained of all its vital resources, wants the secret ‘K’ is tracking. He entrusts his right hand replicant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), to beat him to the punch.
Those are the broad strokes of the film’s premise, but trust me when I say ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is so much more than that. Villeneuve, the man behind one of the best films from last year, ‘Arrival’, has crafted the rare blockbuster that isn’t concerned with occupying its audience with visceral thrills at every turn (though there are plenty of those). Like Scott did with the original ‘Blade Runner’, Villeneuve gives the film room to breathe with a two hour, forty-five minute runtime. We have time to ponder the implications of the film’s narrative as we take in its breathtaking art, set and costume design. All three of which are presented in stunning fashion thanks to the peerless cinematography from veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins; the man who brought us the best looking Bond film to date, ‘Skyfall’.
I can’t impress upon you enough just how great this film looks. Deakins makes dystopia look inviting. The stories tall holographic billboards that pop and pepper the skyscrapers of Los Angeles are a startling contrast to the grungy, rain soaked alleyways the film spends much of its time in. The wastelands outside of the city are washed out in the same way the hopes of its inhabitants are. The barren, rubble strewn landscape of Las Vegas is presented in an eerie orange hue that puts the audience deep within the strange, polluted environment. In short, if Deakins doesn’t win an Oscar for best cinematography, The Academy is insane.
Though Deakins is the MVP of the film, the heavyweight actors that round out Villeneuve’s cast are no slouches either. Harrison Ford, who reprises his role from the original, turns in his strongest performance in some time. Lately whenever he shows up in something there’s always a sense that he’s just waiting to cash his check, but here Ford actually seems to give a shit; which is surprising given the contentious relationship he’s had with the original film and its director over the years.
As I touched on before, Gosling is strong as usual. His character ‘K’ internalizes much of what he experiences, yet Gosling is quite adept at ensuring we understand what’s going on behind his eyes.
Most surprising to me are Jared Leto’s performance as Wallace and Sylvia Hoeks’ as Luv. Despite only appearing a couple of times, Leto makes his presence stick with you long after the film ends, utilizing a strange speaking cadence and contacts that black out his eyes. Hoeks, an actress I was unfamiliar with until now, doesn’t get much more time than Leto, but she’s equally effective. As is the case with many Ridley Scott productions, her character raises vital questions the film ultimately sidesteps, but they never feel extraneous due to the conviction in Hoeks’ performance.
Great performances, brilliant cinematography, and detailed set design aren’t all that go into creating a film as excellent as ‘2049’; the other vital aspect is, of course, the film’s score. For the original, Scott entrusted that duty to electronic composer Vangelis. The result is one of the most unique film scores ever created. This time around Villeneuve has recruited veteran composer Hans Zimmer and his collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch. While they were never going to reproduce something as original as Vengelis’ work, they do use his score as a springboard for theirs, creating a chunky, dread filled soundscape that sets the perfect mood for this very bleak vision of the future.
Though its pace may be a bit too languid at times, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is well worth your patience. It’s the kind of big budget sci-fi blockbuster that simply doesn’t get made these days. It holds the veneer of a straightforward action film, the mood of a dark drama, and the soul of a character study. Villeneuve has proven once again that he’s one of the most intriguing directors working right now. My only hope is that modern audiences will pick up on that fact and support his work where it most needs it: the theater.
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5
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