Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri and Jared Leto
Plot: A robotic corpse suggests evidence that a replicant gave birth to a child, throwing both humans and replicants into a race for the truth.
When it comes to major blockbusters, some might argue originality is dead. Marvel have cornered the market when it comes to the big events of the year, their extensive superhero vehicle taking up the majority of budget in the film business. The runners-up to Marvel are all big franchises. Star Wars, James Bond, Mission Impossible… it seems that few original ideas make it onto the big screen these days. The small sparks of creativity (Atomic Blonde, John Wick, Baby Driver), are drops in an ocean, either not summoning the box office success to inspire gambling on new ideas or quickly becoming movie franchises in their own right. That makes it even more painful, when Hollywood, rather than gambling on new ideas, mine cult classics for reboot or long-awaited sequel material. When Bladerunner 2049 was announced, it was hard not to feel the disappointment at Ridley Scott dragging his old success through the mud, because the movie business has run out of ideas.
But run out of ideas, Hollywood has not. A large part of the success of Bladerunner’s sequel is the fact that Scott has handed the reins over to Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve is one of the most exciting directors at the moment, his best films roaring successes and even his weaker efforts remaining thought-provoking thrillers. Scott doesn’t try to quash his outside-the-box directing either, choosing to let him glide free of the usual Hollywood limitations. There is a sense that Bladerunner 2049 turned into a surprisingly exciting prospect. This is less of a sequel and more another story taking place in that same universe. In fact, for a long while, it doesn’t really feel like a relic of the past. Set thirty years after Harrison Ford first took on Rutger Hauer’s rogue replicant, this movie universe has evolved beyond what we last saw. Replicants are no longer running on a shortened life span and any form of rebellion is less open war, and more rebel replicants spending their last few moments, hiding and awaiting “retirement” at the hands of bladerunners. Ideas are bursting from every angle of this story, as Villeneuve shakes off the past and focuses on what is, essentially, a brand new Sci-Fi story. Imagination courses through every segment of the movie. Ryan Gosling’s replicant bladerunner is having a romantic relationship with a hologram. That very partnership adds so much depth to this movie, small interactions exploding into beautifully crafted discussions. How real is their love? Is Ryan Gosling’s K imagining the chemistry between them to make him feel more alive? Stripping away the subtext and you can just sink into the beauty of it all. One of the stand-out scenes of the film sees Gosling’s holographic lover figure out a way to make love to him and that scene is sublimely shot. It is mesmerising due to the characterisation bleeding from the shot to the amazement at just “how” Villeneuve’s cinematographer managed to pull it off. Either way, that moment just transfixes you. The story is a pulse-pounding mystery too, Villeneuve borrowing the pace from the original. Bladerunner won’t provide you with the action beats you perhaps secretly crave, choosing to adopt a more slow-burning thoughtful style. The few fights are either brief (Ford and Gosling duke it out in a fantastic set), or saved to spice up the ending. Bad guys are left alive, some unchallenged even, because taking them on was never the point of the movie. Violence doesn’t necessarily equate to winning here. But sink into the wonder of Villeneuve’s script and, even when it clocks in at a staggering 163 minutes, it outstands you. I already want to watch it again, simply to stand back and watch certain scenes, getting another chance to really dive in and explore every orifice of the plot. Small moments are just as well choreographed as the bigger bits, so major plot details explode when you least expect it.
The main reason the script keeps you hooked, even with the lengthy running time, is because Villeneuve doesn’t just focus on the dialogue. Bladerunner 2049 is a truly holistic effort from everyone involved. Just when Christopher Nolan was sitting back, confident Dunkirk was the most beautifully shot film of 2017, Villeneuve comes along and blows him out of the water. Just when the movie starts to get stale, an outstandingly gorgeous piece of cinematography jolts life back into the picture. Most giant space operas are the camp, utopian Sci-Fis (Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Star Trek). The gritter versions of the future, such as Alien, tend to choose a smaller scale venue, able to wonderfully recreate a smaller set. Bladerunner 2049 takes the condensed misery of its story and throws it to the wider world. Villeneuve makes time to show us giant trash compacters, prostitute-riddled alleyways and the ruins of great cities. Even when the movie is starting to bloat, Villeneuve refuses to rush, aware that we are willing to wait for the slow reveal of yet another wonderful landscape. There is something about the score which brings the cinematography alive. It is less of a score, and more of a thrilling soundscape, a distant metallic throbbing that hints at tension lurking just around the corner. This is also a movie crammed with actors you love, yet they are reduced to minimal screen-time. This is not a bad thing, as every actor here feels like another well-placed brick in a grand building. Not one character is constantly dragging focus away from the story, not even Harrison Ford, who is surprisingly saved for the last few moments. Gosling takes centre-stage, somehow poker-facing his way through the entire movie, but, at the same time, conveying so much layered emotion. It leaves the other actors needing to blow us away with just one or two scenes. Dave Bautista shows the kind of restrained, quietly deep performance that feels more complex than anything he has done before. Jared Leto is a disturbingly sinister figure, relegated to only a few moments, but all-encompassing nonetheless. Carla Juri is superb with just a single, heart-breaking scene. Everything feels well orchestrated, Villeneuve a masterful composer, allowed to play with one of the biggest Sci-Fis out there.
So no, originality is not dead…
Final Verdict: When you have a three hour film that still grips constantly throughout its run-time, you know you have come up with something extraordinary. The perfect film.