By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

To say that expectations were high for Blade Runner 2049 would be one of the biggest understatements in movie history. The sequel to one of the most influential sci-fi films of all-time has finally arrived, and of course the biggest question is – is it any good? With great excitement (and also a huge sigh of relief), the answer is a resounding yes.

Director Denis Villeneuve, who has built up a dedicated following with films such as Polytechnique, Incendies, Sicario, and Arrival, certainly took a huge gamble by taking the reins of this project, especially after Ridley Scott himself stepped away (he has stayed on as a producer). Despite his incredible talent as a film-maker, Villeneuve’s career would have been permanently stained if this had have misfired, and sentenced to ‘movie jail’ by film buffs for quite some time. With the glorious, gorgeous work of art he’s created, Villeneuve can hold his head high.

As the title indicates, the film is set 30 years after the events which occurred in 2019, and although L.A. is still over-crowded and dotted with cutting-edge technology, on the outskirts the landscape is mostly littered with rusting, discarded metal. Living in this tech-obsessed environment is K (Ryan Gosling), whose occupation is the same one Rick Deckard retired from all those years ago. Working under strict orders from his tough LAPD superior, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), K lives a reclusive existence, a diligent officer but quiet in social circles.

One case assigned to K proves more dangerous than he could have expected, and will see him re-evaluate his job, his life, and what it truly means to be human in a world surrounded by layers of metal and meticulously crafted software.

What is immediately apparent with Blade Runner 2049 is that it is no mere rehash of the now much-loved original. The studio could have easily just reheated familiar ingredients, smothered it in CGI, and made a quick buck on the name and the global fan base Blade Runner has. Refreshingly, Hollywood bucks the trend by entrusting a potential franchise goldmine to an arthouse film-maker, who, aided by a dense, thought-provoking script by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the first film) and Michael Green (Logan, Murder on the Orient Express), allows the material to be properly expanded upon and explored. The combination of thoughtful subject matter and compelling examination by both its writers and director is a rarity for modern American cinema, and one that should be openly embraced.

Weighty themes organically attach to its well-structured plot, adhering more and more to each character’s actions, responses, and beliefs. Every element is vital and important to proceedings, making the journey a truly fulfilling and satisfying one. It is interesting to note that three prequel shorts were made, explaining specific historical events and plot points mentioned in 2049. The shorts are Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 (from renowned anime film-maker Shinichiro Watanabe, who directed the Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy TV series), 2036: Nexus Dawn, and 2048: Nowhere To Run, both helmed by Luke Scott, son of Ridley.

Gosling was born to play the emotionally restrained K, and is definitely reminiscent of his work with Nicolas Winding Refn in Drive and Only God Forgives. But under the watchful eye of Villeneuve, he imbues this new replicant hunter with a multitude of subtle nuances, making this one of his best performances to date. Harrison Ford, so disappointing in the most recent outings of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, thankfully this time jumps back into another of his most famous roles with vigor and conviction. The generational gap is cleverly handled, and he and Gosling play off each other with notable skill.

Wright is reliable as always as Joshi, while there is also strong work from Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, and Barkhad Abdi.

With the script so rich in detail, Villeneuve also manages to craft one of the most beautiful looking (and sounding) feature films ever made. From its theatre-rumbling sound design, to the surprisingly wonderful amount of miniature effects employed, spliced seamlessly with outstanding CGI, and of course its utterly convincing production design (by Dennis Gassner), Blade Runner 2049 is a technical marvel. Special mention however must go to veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has bestowed upon audiences some of the most incredible, jaw-dropping imagery ever committed to film, and deserves to be put alongside the legendary work done by Jordan Cronenweth on the 1982 classic. This must surely will end his baffling drought at next year’s Academy Awards.

The score, by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, is an atmospheric mix of old and new, threading some well-known notes into its new compositions. It was an almost impossible task to try and equal the unforgettable soundtrack by Vangelis, but this duo should be commended for their efforts.

Blade Runner 2049 will disappoint those wanting nothing more than a spoon-fed imitation of its famous predecessor, and its cerebral approach, lengthy running time, and lack of action may also distance general movie goers. But for those who want to be challenged, absorbed, and overwhelmed, both of the mind and the senses, then this may prove to be one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 5/5

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