Blade Runner 2049 Review
This is how to make a sequel.
Achieving the impossible, Denis Villeneuve's majestic Blade Runner 2049 is possibly one of the greatest sequels of all time.In the days where modern sequels to timeless classics have rarely been good and where the Hollywood sequel machine has crafted an almost universally terrible reputation for itself, the notion of returning to a Ridley Scott classic and crafting a worthy successor seems utterly alien. Without Scott on board, concerns were initially quite justified, although after the mess of Prometheus and Covenant, and the stunning one-two punch of Sicario and Arrival, fans were quite rightly enthused to find acclaimed filmmaker Denis Villeneuve taking on the reins. And the end result is everything you could have expected from the man and more. A worthy sequel. A powerful future-noir thriller. A thoughtful sci-fi epic. And a film which not only builds upon the mantle of the 35 year old classic but arguably goes some way towards besting it.Set decades after the events of Blade Runner, we find outselves in a different but eerily similar future LA, ostensibly following in the footsteps of another man tasked with catching the last of a dying breed; the last rogue replicants. A task that's still assigned to Blade Runners. When his latest mission reveals a buried treasure of sorts, it sparks off a quest to find the truth behind a grand and far-reaching conspiracy; one which the LAPD want buried, and which notorious synthentic designer Tyrell's megalomaniac replacement, Wallace would like to be conducted for his own mysterious gains. At the centre of it is K, a dedicated but increasingly disillusioned Blade Runner whose own journey ignites questions of morality, humanity, creation and, those timeless gems: what does it mean to have a soul? And can replicants have them?
Villeneuve has done the unthinkable. The impossible. He has crafted a film which stands up on its own with a unique identity and quintessential style associated with the filmmaker, yet one which is so heavily entrenched in everything you'd expect to see in a Blade Runner universe that it feels like an organic continuation of the first film. It's Villeneuve, but it's also Blade Runner. Right from the marriage of intense, oppressive low end rumbles with Vangelis twangs, this is how to do a sequel to such a classic – rather than just taking scenes, Villeneuve understood everything that was great about the original movie and uses its DNA to craft a worthy successor. Not just ripping from it, replicating it, and going for bigger and noisier. Blade Runner 2049 has its own story to tell, and it's a thought-provoking, cleverly-developed narrative which echoes themes from the original, and builds upon its foundation, but never once seeks to disrespect it, unravel it, or repeat it. This isn't Prometheus, or Covenant, or even The Force Awakens, for that matter. This is the kind of result you'd expect from having someone like Nolan helm a Blade Runner sequel. Maybe even better.
Performances are pitch-perfect, with Gosling a wonderful choice for the seemingly cold and aloof K, slowly discovering himself and the part he has to play in the grand scheme of things, and getting – in true Gosling style – well and truly messed up, repeatedly, along the way. It's a great performance, but the real surprises come from those you didn't expect to deliver them – Jared Leto was the same guy who ruined The Joker, so it's crazy to see him become so very Tyrell-ian here in a very distinct role as Tyrell's successor; and Harrison Ford? Well who knew that after returning to his other defining franchises, Indiana Jones and Star Wars, with diminishing returns, he could actually still act? And who would have thought that it would have been quite so nice to have the old Blade Runner back? The two lead females get great, unusual roles too, with Ana de Armas beautifully real as K's hologram AI, and Sylvia Hoeks deceptively straight as a new synthetic not to be underestimated.
One of the greatest film experiences of the year – possibly the decade
The score, much like in the original, is its own character too. And if you thought Dunkirk was loud, you wait until you see what this has to offer. Whilst Villeneuve's go-to-composer, Johann Johannsson (who scored Sicario, Arrival and Prisoners with that inimitable, oppressive LFE-tastic bass) was rudely excused from the film mid-production, it's clear his fingerprints are all over the score much more than those of his replacements Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, although there are still some great, tense moments where the ticking, impetus familiar to any of Nolan's films comes through from Zimmer's hands. Whoever crafted this magnificent accompaniment, however, managed to nail it.
Villeneuve knows just what to do with effects too. This isn't the CG excess of Transformers, or the wasted opportunity of Ghost in the Shell. Wherever possible he appears to have taken to the streets, found real life locales and, where necessary, enhanced them to suit the film. The barren wastelands or orange radiation zone; the neon streets, often bathed in snow - even the aerial shots could have been ripped from Sicario – and yet he injects it with pure Blade Runner drone control "Enhance 128-64. Pull back". It's genius. Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 shows the future, but built upon the now, much like the original Scott vision was back in the 80s.
Taking his time with this epic movie, his pacing is note-perfect, building to confrontations, delivering in revelations and delivering a smattering of brutal bursts of bloody violence across the piece. Much like the original, this is more detective story than action thriller, with K's increasingly battered hunter finding himself the pawn of much bigger political players; the veritable hunted in a giant chess game. It's pure noir at this level, trading in the vibes of everything from Chinatown to Angel Heart, but at another level it has machine-operated pure sci-fi working full tilt, asking questions that will resonate long after the film closes, and remaining just elusive enough to keep you ruminating on the topics and themes raised.
Blade Runner, in any one of its many different forms, was always a little ambiguous, with grander themes and ideas that added to its mythos. Blade Runner 2049 builds a whole universe of grand questions to answer; layer upon layer of metaphysical reflection which could fuel a whole franchise that fans might actual champion to see. It's one of the greatest experiences of the year; potentially even the decade. And certainly one of the greatest sequels of all time. See it on the biggest, loudest screen you can possibly find and be prepared to get a dark and wonderful welcome back into the rich and atmospheric futurescape of Blade Runner. A modern masterpiece.
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