Thursday, 25 January 2018

Review #1,297: 'Blade Runner 2049' (2017)

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner suffered greatly at the box-office when it was released in the summer of 1982, but has enjoyed an astonishing re-evaluation in the proceeding decades as one of the greatest and most innovative science-fiction movies of all time. During the last 35 years, talk of and ideas for a sequel have been constantly thrown around, with Scott often voicing his interest in returning to the future world of Replicants and Blade Runners. After much fan-fretting, the follow-up is finally here, only with Denis Villeneuve at the helm, but seeing what Scott has done to his other masterpiece Alien in the last few years, his departure is most welcome. With 2016's Arrival, Villeneuve hinted that he may just be cinema's next sci-fi visionary, and now with Blade Runner 2049, he has only gone and confirmed it.

In 2049, Replicants are still living amongst us. With many of them retreating to solitary lives outside of the city, Blade Runners such as Ryan Gosling's K are still employed to hunt down and 'retire' any Replicants in hiding. When investigating farmer Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), K uncovers a shocking secret that will change everything that is known about Replicants and their poistion as dangerous and disposable property. K's boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) wants the matter swept under the carpet before the truth starts to leak out, and tasks the highly competent Blade Runner with taking care of it quickly and cleanly. Also taking an interest is Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the head of the company now leading in the way in the manufacturing of Replicants following the demise of the Tyrell Corporation. He sends his Replicant enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to uncover the truth and to stop K, who is having his own identity crisis, before he makes the whole thing disappear for good.

One of the many issues people had with Blade Runner back in 1982 was its pacing. It runs at under two hours, but is certainly in no hurry to rush into the next action scene or to offer any easy answers. Blade Runner 2049 takes the same approach, thankfully, choosing to gently stroll around this world and let you absorb its ugly beauty. The sequel spends less time in the rainy metropolis of Los Angeles, choosing instead to explore the snowier, desolate regions outside of the city and the glowing, inhospitable ruins of Las Vegas. It's all brought stunningly to life by cinematographer Roger Deakins (who must be a shoe-in for the Oscar) and production designer Dennis Gassner. This unhurried approach may explain why Villeneuve's film - despite massive fan and critic anticipation - under-performed at the box office. It also runs at a whopping two hours and 40 minutes, so anyone who failed to bring a cushion to the cinema may have been shuffling in their seats, but Blade Runner 2049 is one of a small collection of movies that justifies its lengthy running-time, numb backside or not.

Resurrecting his third iconic character in 9 years, Harrison Ford also returns as Rick Deckard, the former Blade Runner and possible Replicant who was last seen fleeing with Sean Young's Rachael. Ford appears much later in the film than I was expecting, especially when you consider how prominent he was in the marketing campaign. But Villeneuve has wisely chosen to make this K's story, refusing to re-introduce Deckard until he becomes necessary to the plot. K is a Replicant and knows his place in society, and his journey is one of loneliness, doubt and contemplation. His isolation is highlighted further by Joi (Ana de Arnas), the holographic girlfriend who finds herself in her own philosophical quandary, and who no doubt represents our own over-reliance on technology while we experience less actual human contact. Blade Runner 2049 is bold film-making, refusing to pander to the mainstream crowds or to simply drool over the original, cementing itself as a great work of science-fiction in its own right. It doesn't live up to the original, but it's damn close, and that's an achievement few thought possible.

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, Lennie James, Dave Bautista
Country: USA/UK/Hungary/Canada

Rating: *****

Tom Gillespie

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) on IMDb

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