With all the hype around the release of Blade Runner 2049, everything and anything will have been said about Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious sequel. In these days of lazy, uninspired remakes and retakes of already remade remakes, where quantity is the only response to the lack of quality, it is quite refreshing to discover a film that actually tries to bring something new while remaining faithful to the original. Perhaps because Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner is now considered as one of the sci fi genre defining movies, along with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and James Cameron’s Terminator, nobody had dared tackle the beast and risk making a fool of themselves. Fur sure the post-apocalyptic futuristic style, the themes of identity and artificial intelligence, the visionary tech ideas have been borrowed again and again, but the Blade Runner concept had remained untouched. Until Denis Villeneuve, who had made a successful leap into the sci fi world with “Arrival” last year, took up the challenge.
The stakes were high, but it is fair to say Villeneuve has delivered. Blade Runner 2049 is a fantastic immersive experience, whose lead actor is the earth, or what is left of it, after climate change, extreme pollution and material destruction. The production is mind-blowing, the atmosphere truly mesmerising, supported by fantastic special effects that blend in with the characters and don’t turn the film into a video game. The urban, cyberpunk environment, introduced by Blade Runner, with its gloomy, dehumanised cityscapes full of flying vehicles, giant advertising billboards, hologram pinups, Japanese-inspired ads, featured high tech in a run-down world.
What Villeneuve succeeds in is adding new layers to this desolate atmosphere, with orangey, smoggy, suffocating suburbs covered in synthetic greenhouses – the only way crops can be grown – disused factories and rubble; or a derelict casino, where artefacts and a flickering virtual reality implement offer a soulful reminder of long gone cultural riches. Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s bold, threatening, electro-industrial soundtrack is fantastic. Clearly inspired by Vangelis’ distinctive score, it is not as jazzy or bluesy, it is definitely grimmer and more akin to Nine Inch Nail.
When it comes to the storyline and to the acting, well, that is perhaps where the film is less audacious and might leave fans wanting more. Ryan Gosling is well cast as K, albeit not hugely charismatic, an impassive and violent Blade Runner, whose job it is to hunt down rebellious replicants. After finding a skeleton buried near the house of a Nexus-8 replicant K has just “retired”, LAPD examines the replicant’s remains and comes to the conclusion that it has carried a baby – a major discovery which could put the balance between humans and replicants in peril. K is instructed to go and find the offspring and retire it to kill off any rumours – but soon after he discovers a date engraved on the tree where the body was buried which matches his date of birth. It’s the start of a quest for truth at odds with the evil corporate interests of the Wallace Company. Could K be the result of this miraculous birth? Or is this just an artificial memory embedded in replicants’ brains? Where is the father of this hybrid which could allow the Wallace Company to reproduce replicant slaves at scale through procreation? The narrative sounds awfully familiar, with the search for the father, in order to uncover one’s true roots and identity. Harrison Ford, Robin Wright and Jared Leto offer decent performances but they can’t conceal the lack of a truly original scenario which is riddled with inconsistencies and archetypical themes. Blade Runner 2049 is not an action movie, which is what I really enjoyed about it, but without a true villain, the film lacks a bit of suspense and dynamism. Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his right arm Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) don’t present a big enough threat to the lead roles to make it a cliff-hanger.
Having said that the production and cinematography largely make up for a somewhat simplistic plot and underwhelming conclusion to the mind-blowing visual show that is Blade Runner 2049.