I entered the cinema with some apprehension. Blade Runner 2049 had some large shoes to fill. Possibly the biggest ask of any sequel to date. I had a horrible feeling that it was going to be the sort of soulless, action-pastiche that we’ve come to expect from Hollywood today, full of ‘nods and winks’ to the original. As sick as I am of Hollywood squeezing, the teat of genius gone-by dry and raw, Blade Runner 2049 entirely defied my expectations.
I’d describe the film as thoroughly nihilistic and wholeheartedly depressing. In essence, I loved it.
Joe… We’re home!
The first thing one notices is the incredible sound design. The word ‘soundscape’ rather than ‘score’ best describes the enveloping wall of sound that Hans Zimmer has used to generate that ineffable ‘Blade Runner’ feel.
It reclaims the ‘shit hole Earth’ sensibility of all those classic sci-fi giants of the 70s and 80s from Silent Running to Soylent Green to the Alien saga. Yet this also brings you, very intimately, into both the world of the film and the mood of the protagonist; a feeling I’d describe as almost… cosy.
The cinematography blends expertly with this sonic achievement. It creates a world of fogs and smudges, intersected with cleaner, sharper skylines and splashy neon flourishes.
Do androids dream of pleasant surprises?
Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is less than concerned with plot yet still manages to be a decent tech-noir detective story. It is a beautifully conceived exploration of the Blade Runner world that still feels as fresh today as it did in 1982. It occupies the same philosophical spaces as the original and asks the same kinds of questions. Like the original film and the book on which it was based, it provides some interesting musings on the nature of life, emotion, meaning and how superhumanly shit the human race is at managing our resources. The thrilling action scenes only compliment the atmosphere and highlight the struggle of Ryan Gosling’s central character K / Joe. The plot twists and bucks, never failing to turn the next corner and find another layer of meaning.
Tears in the rain
On the whole, the cast does their job sublimely. The only possible exception of Jared Leto, whose character seems to lack a little focus and (even though he’s a pretty big plot point) narrative purpose. I’m inclined to suspect, though, that this may be due more to the writing.
Dave Bautista turns in a stunning performance. Having only seen him in his more comedic role as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, I was blown away by his nuanced character delivery. While acting for comedy is not necessarily easier than ‘straight acting’ it is at least a qualitatively different skill. His mastery of both was a delight to behold.
Ryan Gosling didn’t let us down either, letting us deep inside his character’s mind and allowing us to share his feelings very directly.
Harrison Ford’s reprisal of Rick Deckard was icing on the cake for me. I suppose 2049 could have been written without him, but I think it lent a certain solidity to the world building, meaningfully linking the two films together.
Ana de Armas’ role as Joi was also achingly real, though I did have a few issues with how her character fit in with the rest of the plot. It felt a little like a sideline to me and didn’t gel as well as the other elements of the film, though I may well revise that opinion on future viewings. It is often difficult to imbibe the full nature of such a philosophically and sensually rich piece of work as Blade Runner 2049 is first time round. Her character treads similar philosophical ground as Scarlet Johansson’s AI character in Her and while she could have been handled very cynically there does appear to be a genuine warmth to her.
Hats off to Sylvia Hoeks too, as the enigmatic ‘Luv’. She manages to combine menacing devotion with subtle complexity as she evolves throughout the film. Robin Wright gives yet another acting masterclass in a well-wrought, restrained role as Lieutenant Joshi.
Without treading on the original’s toes Blade Runner 2049 is the first film in a long time to buck the trend of thoughtless so called science fiction on our big screens.
It is instead very, very good.