"The key to the future, is finally revealed."
I’ve said this a lot but it’s worth repeating, ‘Blade Runner’ is one of my all-time favourite films. It’s something that took a long time for me to absorb and appreciate on the level that I do today and if this sequel were being directed by any other filmmaker I would regard the idea as a travesty. But this is Denis Villeneuve, the director who has cemented himself as an age defining auteur and in my eyes is the only person capable of creating something that might live up to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece.
Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who's been missing for 30 years.
Regardless of anything I’m going to say in this review, for me nothing I state about ‘Blade Runner 2049’ can be seen as higher praise than this; it’s a worthy successor to the original in every way. Through this sequel Denis Villeneuve has crafted a film that complements its predecessor whilst taking the ideas, themes and concepts from it in bold new ways. It never resorts to merely repeating what ‘Blade Runner’ said thirty years ago. Instead it furthers the discussions and instead of trying to answer the mysteries of the first film it further evolves those mysteries. It’s a balancing act I’ve never seen any sequel achieve as well as this.
It should come as no surprise that the themes this movie deals with are far from light. It’s tries to grasp the very concept of what it means to be human as well as hints of persecution, revolution, social upheaval, grief, loss, sacrifice and a dozen other big ideas that I won’t spoil. But amid all of these hard hitting themes the movie never lets its narrative be overcome by said concepts. It keeps its focus on its characters and plot but uses them as a means to explore these ideas. Unlike the original ‘Blade Runner’, Villeneuve’s film feels more plot driven and whether that is a good or bad thing is likely to divide some. Personally I think his balance of theme and plot is pitch perfect so I have no issues with the direction he took.
To say the movie is ambitious would be an understatement, not just in its themes but in its whole scope. The variety of landscapes and set pieces we are taken to is spectacular, to an extent where it felt less like a science fiction think piece and more like a grand epic. Some of the images that still linger with me range from torrents of rain crashing down to the desolate and dry desert environment. But once again I find myself praising Villeneuve for his ability to keep the focus on what is vital to both his characters and concepts. He never holds the audiences hand through it either, telling his story in a bold and uncompromising fashion.
There’s no doubt that Villeneuve weaves a strong and distinct visual language, one you’re unlikely to find in any other $150 million dollar production. It really is an arthouse movie disguised as a blockbuster, without ever leaning too heavily to one or the other. The level of craftsmanship and detail that Villeneuve adds to the story is unparalleled, making this journey through the futuristic landscape feel seamless with the development of the characters who inhabit it. His use of practical effects is fantastic, whilst masterfully employing CGI to enhance it to a point where it becomes difficult to distinguish the two.
Villeneuve is a filmmaker who so clearly trusts the intelligence of his audience whilst instilling his films with a sense of meaning that is never lost. Every single frame feels like a masterclass of directing. I can count maybe, one shot that looked imperfect due to a poorly rendered CGI effect and that’s about it. He evokes mood and atmosphere from scene to scene effortlessly, instilling great tension in one and meditative beauty in the next. But none of these scenes ever fail to feel consistent in how they are placed within the movie as a whole. The parts are fantastic individually, but the whole hey form is even better.
A lot of that visual mastery is down to Roger Deakins. I know Deakins is a DP who practically reinvented the medium with his work over the last 25 years, but ‘Blade Runner 2049’ may be his greatest filmic accomplishment yet. His use of colour, composition, framing, everything serves to create a film that is stunning on a visual level. There isn’t a single shot that doesn’t feel visually interesting or irrelevant to the story he and Villeneuve are crafting. It’s not just the striking nature of the imagery though, it’s how that imagery incorporates recurring motifs and themes that unite it as a masterclass of visual storytelling.
But for the occasions in which the film needs dialogue, it has actors who are equally brilliant. Gosling carries an air of ambiguity that instantly creates intrigue around his character. Yet at the same time he never plays it so vague that his motivations are incomprehensible, we can clearly see enough aspects of his character that we empathise with him but are denied enough that we want to uncover more. Harrison Ford delivers one of his best performances as he reprises Deckard, a man so clearly haunted by his past that the plot barely even needs to fill in the details. It’s tough for me to state what makes other members of the cast as good as they are without spoiling a vital characteristic but trust me when I say that they are all working on the same level.
However, for all of its technical brilliance, deep themes and mind bending ideas, my biggest take away from ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is just how emotionally impactful it is. It seems odd to me that almost no one seems to be talking about how profoundly moving the film is. It’s last scene in particular is the perfect embodiment of how the big ideas and social upheaval boil down to one simple concept, what it means to be human. This film never answers that question but it does show us plenty of ideas surrounding it, how something so perfectly constructed can reveal itself to be so deeply humane.
Masterfully assembled on every level, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a testament to the talent of everyone involved. It’s a sequel that honours the original whilst furthering its ideas in ways you could never have imaged.