If there is one film that will surely stick with you from 2017, then perhaps Blade Runner 2049 is it. With the passing of a baton of two huge icons of their generation and the renewal of Philip K Dick’s cult future-noir classic, this film already had a lot going for it. Even so, courtesy of Denis Villeneuve’s painstaking direction (and Ridley Scott’s production) the jawdropping cinematography and a foreboding bleakness which even eclipses the original, this cinematic masterstroke could become the prototype for how to not only execute a sequel, but how to take it to a whole new level.
In the year 2049, many years after what known as a near-apocalyptic type event known as the blackout, the remnants of the original replicants are hunted down by the next generation of blade runners. Meanwhile, substantially enhanced, near-human replicants are used to serve a society with virtual reality and augmented reality a prominent part of everyday existence. Tyrell Corporation has been replaced by an organisation helmed by the ambitious Niander Wallace who is experimenting on creating the perfect replicant. Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling, is a disciplined new breed of blade runner who decommissions old replicants. In the line of duty he stumbles upon dark secrets an seeks out retired, and easily irritable blade runner Deckard, reprised by Harrison Ford, to learn about the past.
Gosling is no stranger to restrained, strong-but-silent type protagonist role he plays as Officer K in Blade Runner 2049, with his iconic performances in Drive and indie sleeper hit Lars and the Real Girl. The contrast between his character’s measured minimalism and the crescendos of emotion that gradually build up in moments throughout the film allows the viewer to really ride K’s emotional transitions. Harrison Ford has intelligently aged Deckert with a grumpy, irritable cynacism, which reflects not only the character’s age, but predicament. Special mention should also go to Cuban actress Ana de Armas who succeeds in breathing rich emotion into K’s artificial intelligent holographic personal assistant. Robin Wright displays great depth as K’s boss and chief of the Blade Runners, simultaneously in awe of K’s robotic professionalism, yet quizzical about his emotional limitations, while Sylvia Hoeks has a ruthlessness and a startling moodiness which makes for a memorable antagonist enforcer.
The art direction of the film succeeds in generating a visceral world which is at once futuristic, whilst still grimey and replete with the imperfections of humanity. Holographic figures beckon to us, whilst claustrophobic and overcrowded apartments repel us. The shady blues and sunset orange hues of the original Blade Runner are evoked with stunning effect, with dreary shades of grey and beige signifying a world pushed to its limits by poverty, decline and environmental degradation. The huge long shots in the film portray a seemingly insurmountable vastness, as depressing as it is staggering. What really plays upon the emotions is the spine-chilling soundtrack of intense lower register synthesisers and heavy drones which maintain a sense of dread throughout the film.
With a plot which not only carries on from the sequel but brings a far more emotional pull, amplified by the intense sound and awe-inspiring imagery, Blade Runner 49 is much more than a re-birth of a classic and deserves consideration as one of the greatest sci-fi films of the century.