14 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 review

How do you even begin to talk about a film like Blade Runner 2049? No matter which way you look at it, making a sequel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner was always going to be an enormous risk, whether that be the financial risk of creating a decades late, high profile, big budget sequel to a film that originally flopped at the box office or the creative risk of being responsible for a disappointing follow up to what is often considered to be the greatest science fiction movie ever made. Frankly, it's a miracle that Blade Runner 2049 even exists at all - the fact that it's actually ended up being a good film is really just the unlikely icing on this already incredibly implausible cake.

Because yes, Blade Runner 2049 is indeed a good film, occasionally veering into genuine greatness. But maybe more surprisingly, it's also a worthy follow up to the original, one that uses the story of Blade Runner as a stepping off point for its own exploration of this world, both narratively and thematically. We follow K, a Blade Runner for the LAPD, as he is tasked with secretly investigating a chest that was found buried under the farm of a Replicant that he recently retired.

To be honest I wouldn't want to give you any more details about the plot or how it develops, as half the fun of Blade Runner 2049 is seeing just how writers Michael Green and Hampton Fancher have chosen to revisit this world. What I will say, however, is that fans of Blade Runner don't need to worry about Blade Runner 2049 "ruining" the original - it builds on its predecessor in interesting and mostly organic ways, expanding our understanding of this world and re-purposing (or at the very least, re-contextualising) the story of Blade Runner without harming either. That isn't to say that the actual plotting behind Blade Runner 2049 is perfect (it's a long film that feels its length and more, and I can't help but think that the larger scope of Blade Runner 2049's story lacks a certain something in comparison to the smaller, more personal story of the original), but it's certainly good enough as to not be disappointing while also allowing some genuinely great scenes, moments and ideas to occasionally rear their heads.

It even goes some way towards fixing the biggest problem that I've had with director Denis Villeneuve's films in the past. In my review of last year's Arrival I said that there's a sterility to Villeneuve's movies that can't help but keep his audience at a distance, and while we're still a long way away from Blade Runner 2049 being a truly affecting movie, there are individual scenes and moments here that resonate on an emotional level in a way that I don't think any of his previous work has. Take, for example, a scene seemingly inspired by Spike Jonze's Her between Ryan Gosling's K and Ana de Armas' Joi - it offers one of the most phenomenal and innovative pieces of film-making that I've seen this year, combining the impeccable sense of craft that Villeneuve has brought to all his films so far with this new found feeling in a way that's simply stunning. It's just a shame that the rest of the film can't match that - while there is a lot of stuff in Blade Runner 2049 that should have invoked strong emotional reactions, it rarely does, and that can't help but reduce the impact it actually has on its audience.

That still makes it a more involving film than Villeneuve's previous efforts though, and around that Blade Runner 2049 is every bit as well-directed and perfectly polished as you could expect, especially when it comes to the visuals. If this doesn't earn cinematographer Roger Deakins his long-overdue Oscar, nothing will - whether it be the neon soaked smog of a dystopian Los Angeles or the dusty oranges of an abandoned Las Vegas, it's one of the most consistently gorgeous films I've seen this year, and Villeneuve's deliberately pace ensures we're given the time to soak it all in. Much like the original, the world of Blade Runner 2049 is a rich and vibrant one that I already can't wait to revisit, whether that be in a sequel or (if the film continues to disappoint at the box office) just in a rewatch of this movie.

Will it end up having the same kind of longevity and influence as its predecessor? I personally doubt it, but only time will tell - and for now, all that really matters is that while maybe not quite the masterpiece some have claimed it to be, Blade Runner 2049 is still an intellectually satisfying and meticulously pieced together science fiction film, the kind that seems to only come around once in a blue moon. For that alone, it's well worth both your time and your money.

4 stars

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