BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Sony Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve / Written by Hampton Fancher & Michael Green
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James with Dave Bautista and Jared Leto
Synopsis: It’s Blade Runner. Ryan Gosling is in it. You don’t need a plot. Film critics do dream of electric sequels.
I didn’t get Blade Runner 2049 at first go.
I entered the biggest screen in town beyond excited on opening night, for a movie that I’ve been dying to see my whole life, and for many others more than 30 years. A sequel to Blade Runner, out in cinemas, with Harrison Ford – the real damn thing. Usually, the idea of a revisitation of a film that is so revered by so many would be considered sacrosanct – that is, until we heard who was directing. Denis Villeneuve is not your typical filmmaker. The man behind the squeeze-your-balls-until-you-cry tense thrills of Sicario, as well as the deep cerebral themes and emotional power of Arrival, seemed on paper to be the absolute dream choice to run some blades. Add to that the casting of Ryan Gosling, who has established himself as Hollywood’s most interesting leading man of the last few years, and of course the return of Ford to perhaps his most enigmatic role. And on first go, I left perplexed. I felt lost, absolutely stunned by the visuals, knowing that there was obviously a movie of significant worth here, but that I’d been retired somewhere along the way. So, a couple of days ago, I went back to the same screen and saw it again, determined to watch the movie rather than read it, to just let the film wash over me like a hot shower before bed.
I was so wrong. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
I’ve never been so happy to repent for my sins. Blade Runner 2049 is one of those movies that only comes along every-so-often. Villeneuve, along with original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher and Logan writer Michael Green, have crafted a science fiction spectacular that deserves to be placed in as rarified an airspace as Ridley Scott’s predecessor, and alongside any other film released in the genre. This movie makes normal blockbusters seem like the sketches of pre-school children. This movie does more in one scene thematically than Michael Bay has in his entire career. Visually…holy shit. The cinematography in this film should be parental locked. I made noises; families were disturbed. It’s hard to explain exactly how I felt in a non-sexual way. There are shots that redefine what shots can be. Not only does Blade Runner 2049 stand as one of the best films of this year, but one of the most beautiful, richly emotional and truly soulful films I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. And its about beings that don’t have souls – or do they? Blade Runner asked existential questions, and 2049 is entirely tinged with the weight of what existence truly means – the movie is almost like a poem, lyrically dealing with what it means to be human through the eyes of those who are not born, but manufactured, asking: can it ever be the same?
With this movie, Denis Villeneuve has his masterpiece. It could be argued the man already had two, but now…how can anybody argue against a director this good? He is a fucking genius. I sometimes wonder when I watch his movies if I’m watching the development of a filmmaker who will one day be amongst the Spielberg’s, Kubrick’s and Coppola’s, on Best Director lists in publications the world over. For me, Villeneuve has a way of directing movies that wrings out every single drop of its emotion – like a nice dress that’s been caught out in the rain and Rutger Hauer’s tears. Scenes flow in this movie like great waterfalls, absolutely hyper-charged with emotion so powerful it transcends the confines of the frame. And holy fuck, the frames. Blade Runner 2049 is, and I say this with the utmost seriousness that I can muster, is one of the best-looking films ever made. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, widely considered for many years to the world leader in his craft, has created something that cannot be put into mere words. I’m not sure anyone can do justice to it. It’s like an orgasm…wrapped inside another orgasm. Deakins has, somehow, captured the feelings of biblical epics, the dirt of this future’s Los Angeles, the emotions of programmed beings, wrapped them in a bow and made them gleam gold, green, and every other colour in the spectrum (and the colours are…*screams like teenage girl*). And once Deakins starts playing around with the lighting, then you just laugh; because you just cannot be that good. There are lighting arrangements in Blade Runner 2049 that are so gosh-darn ostentatious and impressionistic you want to warn every single prospective director of photography to just go home and become a fucking cashier. If the Academy do not award Deakins the Academy Award now, after he’s left the Dolby empty handed after being nominated THIRTEEN TIMES, then that single decision would render every single good we as a species have done over the past two thousand and forty nine years to be worth absolutely nothing. Villeneuve and Deakins are fast becoming one of the defining visual collaborations of our time – its unashamedly big, romantic and so, so deeply…human.
Because 2049, despite being a movie in which about three quarters (or more, if you think that origami was a ‘coincidence’) of the characters are artificial ‘replicants’ (Nexus 9 models to be exact, proof that Google won’t just make tablets in the future), is completely concerned with what it is to truly live. There’s a steakhouse’s stockroom worth of stellar stories and themes to tuck into, and each delectable bite is as satisfying as that alliteration I threw in there for no other reason than to prove I’m a dick. 2049 takes the questions Blade Runner asked, doubles down on them, throws them into a cannon and gives them such an urgency, a richness of depth, that it could make a broken man love again. Believe me – Hampton Fancher’s screenplay is going to be talked about for years. The characters…are all exemplary. 2049‘s lead character, K, is a Blade Runner like any other. Despite spending his days assassinating outlawed replicants (which, in this age of yellow-haired Presidents, feels so prescient to today), K lives a relatively unfulfilling life, with only Ana de Armas’s Joi for company in his flat, an incredibly versatile women for whom there is much more than meets the eye. And when events begin to unfold in 2049’s beautifully paced and constructed plot, that spoiling in any way here would be a colossal disservice to, Gosling wants to believe he’s part of something special, and so do we. And as the plot unfolds, Gosling proves an incredibly engaging protagonist. Gosling himself might have put in the best performance of his career, at parts filled with angst, even rage, but underneath the cool exterior Nicholas Winding Refn introduced us to in Drive. 2049 keeps K’s dialogue economical, always secondary to the absolutely intoxicating visuals, but somehow just as important – there are scenes where Fancher’s dialogue is, quite simply, perfect. A short sequence involving a twist on the legendary Voight-Kampff test is quite possibly one of the best written minutes of film I’ve ever witnessed.
And while Gosling’s work is absolutely superb, he’s matched by the acting all across the board. Harrison Ford’s press tour for this film might have given the impression he’d rather be drowning in whisky or something, but unlike in Star Wars where he phoned it in from a box on a street, Ford really shows up here. His Deckard 30 years later is changed, bitter from the events of them, but still unmistakably the character we fell in love with in the 1980s. And the new additions, on top of the riveting de Armas as quite possibly the most original character to be in a major-studio blockbuster since Moonlight was accidentally mistaken for a major studio blockbuster, are excellent also. Sylvia Hoeks, a Dutch actress whose previous work I’m not familiar with whatsoever is a Rutger Hauer-level breakout as Luv (in case you hadn’t noticed with Joi, there’s a lot of symbolism within every aspect of 2049, which is also filled with literary references in an attempt to prove to the world Hampton Fancher has read in the past 35 years), the consistently-excellent Robin Wright is – you guessed it – consistently excellent as a police lieutenant, and Jared Leto, while sometimes chewing scenery like a shark chewing a couch, proves suitably menacing as replicant manufacturer Wallace, in what is, if anything, Blade Runner 2049‘s weak link.
Below the line, editor Joe Walker has done a staggering job. 2049 of course is a title that doesn’t just refer to the year in which this masterpiece is set, but the amount of minutes the film’s duration consists of: and yet, the pacing is absolutely hypnotic, keeping you enveloped in its clutch like a Venus flytrap with a hungry streak. A three-hour movie simply soars by, and the action sequences are works of true, visceral beauty. Dennis Gassner’s production design is remarkable, recreating the completely unique world of Blade Runner while also expanding upon it with incredible statues, and whoever did the colour grade deserves millions upon millions of promotions. And then there’s the score – if you’ve seen the original movie you’ll know how important this is. I can gladly report that, despite the controversy surrounding Johann Johannsson being cut from the movie (incredibly, the second time its happened to the Icelandic composer in the space of a month), we were in safe hands all along. Vangelis, the reclusive Greek composer (the only proof the world needs that Greece is one of its greatest nations) who made a masterpiece in his home studio, has been well emulated here by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, who have certainly made a solid score in their own right – it could have maybe had just a little more old-style synth, but anyone who knows me knows that of course I would say that – but hark back to the original at just the right times: trust me. Blade Runner 2049 (and the incredible craftsmen and women behind it) deserves Oscar nominations in pretty much every production category.
Denis freaking Villeneuve. I remember watching Sicario for the first time, late on a Tuesday night I think, mostly on a whim and just…knowing. Knowing that there might come a day when he made a film so big and yet so unbelievably good. He and Hampton Fancher have made an instant sci-fi classic, and perhaps a classic without the sci-fi classification over the top. The fact of the matter is these two turned an idea that, if 99% of other directors were doing, I would have actively rioted against, into a movie whose deep existential cry will stay with me for an incredibly long time. And if 2049 is a sequel then isn’t it…a replicant itself? An imitation, featuring much the same things as its original but only made possible by its father’s existence? A lot of people might have said its too artificial to come alive, too against something so pure as Blade Runner is to so many: nothing more than a soulless attempt to recycle a classic. Nobody can look at this replicant and claim it isn’t alive. 2049 is the most soulful movie of this year, and probably 2049 when it comes around. Its beautiful, brilliant, bombastic and utterly mesmerising – blades have never been ran on quite like this before. This film is an attack ship off the shoulder of Orion. A C-Beam, glittering in the dark by the Tannhauser Gate. And all those…moments will be lost…in time like tears…in…
BEST WATCHED: The biggest screen, the biggest sound system, everything. You have to see this film.