Thirty years after the events of the original film, a young blade runner uncovers a secret and becomes intertwined in a battle between those trying to preserve it, and those trying to destroy it.
Obviously, Blade Runner (1982) is a seminal work. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller has influenced the way filmmakers interpret the genre, and will continue to do so, for years to come. While he doesn’t direct Blade Runner 2049, the film is in capable hands. Denis Villeneuve is one of the most talented people working in the film industry as a whole, and his skills as a storyteller and impeccable eye for visuals are perfectly matched with this material.
Blade Runner 2049 is not a masterpiece, but it is beautifully crafted, photographed, and acted. While there are very few things that can be faulted or critiqued, the film doesn’t quite manage to connect. It is technically perfect and there is nothing about it that should be changed, and yet, there is a coldness to it that, despite being necessary and deliberate, makes it difficult to warm to the film. The argument could certainly be made that a film’s quality is not determined based on whether or not one ‘warms’ to it, and that argument would be more than fair. But still, this inability to connect equals an inability to invest; in the characters, their lives, and the story.
That’s not to say it’s meaningless – on an intellectual level, the stakes are all perfectly set up, and we always understand how great the losses to our characters would be should they fail in their endeavours. But, to know it and to feel it are very distant concepts. To know that K (Ryan Gosling) has endured a life of loneliness as a pariah because of what he is, is very different to feeling his desperation for a connection, or his unspoken ambition for a life that means something more. All of the knowing in the world cannot get an audience to empathise, and that is the key thing missing from Blade Runner 2049; a heart.
Despite this, the film is commendable and, at times astonishing, for so many reasons. The photography, and in particular the lighting, are monumental achievements, and if his work on this film doesn’t finally get Roger Deakins an Oscar, nothing will. There’s a constant contrast between the warm toned hues of an upper-class life in this dystopian future, and the harsh blues of what has become of middle-America. In particular, the light in the lair of Wallace, our villain (Jared Leto), is constantly reflecting off a pool of water. Soft orange waves ripple down every surface and character in these scenes, and they give the moments a delicate pulse; a hypnotic ebb and flow, indicative of the serenity that wealth can buy in this world. This is complimented by the visual effects, which are so flawless, that if the things they were showing us weren’t so clearly impossible, they would blend in seamlessly with reality.
Another standout element is the music. It oscillates between rhythms with a raw energy; low, guttural vocals with a heavy beat, and a classic high science-fiction synth, that’s reminiscent of the decade in which the original Blade Runner was made.
The performances are also spectacular. Everyone is going to be talking about Gosling’s performance, and while that praise is certainly not misplaced, the standout of this film is Sylvia Hoeks, as Luv; the right hand of Wallace. She should be considered for every accolade available to her, and at this stage of the year, with the performances we’ve seen so far, she should win them all. She is both so human, and so inhuman all at once. She strikes an unholy balance between the natural and unnatural, and perfectly embodies the unique creature she is; the physical manifestation of internal conflict and cognitive dissonance. She is a slave, like all other replicants, subservient to Wallace. But despite this inherent submissiveness, she is a force, and a leader, who is striving for power and a goal. Tragically, the goal is to further oppress her own kind. It’s almost unfortunate that Leto often has to share the screen with her, because he pales in comparison.
Despite the somewhat passionless impression Blade Runner 2049 leaves, it is unmistakeably an immaculately crafted piece of cinema, in every facet, and has solidified Denis Villeneuve as one of the greats.
Denis Villeneuve noted that he’s fully aware of the immense pressure he’s under, and how hardcore fans of the original view the prospect of a new film: “I know that every single fan will walk into the theater with a baseball bat. I’m aware of that and I respect that, and it’s okay with me because it’s art. Art is risk, and I have to take risks. It’s gonna be the biggest risk of my life but I’m okay with that. For me it’s very exciting… It’s just so inspiring, I’m so inspired. I’ve been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was 10 years old, and I said ‘no’ to a lot of sequels. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Blade Runner 2049 (2017). I love it too much, so I said, ‘Alright, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great.'”