Review: Blade Runner 2049

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“Arrival is one of the best sci-fi films to come out in the 21st Century. I have not seen science fiction this good since the release of Interstellar in 2014, and I doubt I will see another for a while. That is unless Blade Runner 2049 really surprises me next October, which Villeneuve could manage to do.”

I have always wanted to quote myself somewhere, no better has the opportunity presented itself before, now that my experience of watching Arrival was 11 months ago and Blade Runner 2049 is here. What you read above is from my Arrival review, when we had seen nothing of Blade Runner 2049, and I was shrouded with doubt as to whether a sequel released 35 years after the original could be successful.

The first teaser trailer had me riddled with intrigue; Ryan Gosling’s Officer K meeting Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard with the cinematography and music of the trailer doing a perfect job of emulating the atmosphere of the first film. Having seen this trailer, I went out of my way to avoid any other trailer for the film even if it was in the cinema when I was watching a film earlier in the year, leading to a few awkward looks from others in the cinema and abuse from friends.

It is evident from the first scene of this production that great care was put into the film, as it is the best opening scene I have seen in such a long time – nothing else comes close. The dialogue is spot on, with a bit of action to lure us in and cinematic shots to die for. Science fiction films can so easily be suffocated by exposition, the writing of the first scene eliminated the need for such exposition. In it, we learn that Officer K is a replicant (an android, made to emulate humans in everything but emotion) made to obey command and a “blade runner”, someone who hunts down rogue replicants and “retires” them.

For those of you who are alert and familiar with your literature, you may make the link of Officer K being a play on ‘Joseph K’, the lead character in The Trial by Franz Kafka. Joseph is a man lacking control of his existence, accused of a crime which he has no idea about and forced into finding out why he is being charged. This is no coincidence; Officer K is a man not fully in control of his life and Ryan Gosling, a man who is so famous that casting him as any character risks us only thinking of the character of “Ryan Gosling”, plays him with class and ambiguity. Not once did I think of K as “that Ryan Gosling character”, and his ability to act confused yet determined added so much that I cannot imagine any other actor doing.

The film cements Villeneuve as one of the best directors working today – certainly the best at the type of films that he makes. Like Arrival, he places his trust in the audience and does not hold our hand in a plot thick with themes of predestination and what it means to be human. He very cleverly gives the audience room to think; while the film is slow, it is not tardy in such a way that makes it boring, but in such a manner that allows us to really think about what is going on and what the film is trying to say.

You may have realised that I have not mentioned the plot of the film, nor the writing outside of the first scene. Do not doubt that the writing is stellar, however, I went into this film knowing nothing and it was a treat to see it develop with no idea of where it is going next and I would not wish to take this treat away from you.

The supporting cast, although not much screen time is given to many characters, are incredibly memorable. Jarred Leto, Harrison Ford and Dave Bautista all offer new perspectives of interest that give yet more depth to the story. Sylvia Hoeks plays a replicant called Luv, loyal to Leto’s character Wallace and the two provide great drama and tension throughout the film.

If anyone tells you that there is not a story to this film or that it is more of a conventional film than its predecessor, you have my permission to call them a liar. This is an experience with so much soul, which cannot be replicated anywhere except, perhaps, while watching the first film. There is so much more that I could say about in this film; more performances, how the replicants are more human in their emotions than the humans, even more of the specific scenes themselves. It all boils down to two simple facts: you must see this film and Villeneuve did the impossible in making a Blade Runner sequel that arguably surpasses the original.

★★★★★