Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning with a cast and score that will satisfy even the most discerning science fiction movie-goer.
Ryan Gosling is the new Blade Runner (LAPD Agent K). From the opening scene on an isolated farm - that includes a brilliant slow build to an eruptive fight scene - to his last scene, lying, exhausted in the snow, he delivers an intense and gritty performance. His love interest, Joi, is played by Ana de Armas from Wardogs. She's equally effecting and more than once we were reminded of Spike Jonze's movie Her as K became hopelessly overcome with his need for her. The big love scene between Joi and K involves her holographic body and a replicant's 'real' body. It's a new technique in moviemaking that creates a truly immersive experience. The scene is completely absorbing; while we're wondering when it might all come undone, we remain enthralled by the technology combined with the passion of the characters.
Anyone walking into the theatre to watch it knows that along with Gosling, Blade Runner 2049 also stars the original Blade Runner, Harrison Ford (Deckard). We were disappointed by Ford's cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The use of previous stars in long overdue sequels can create a level of cynicism in consumers. Having said that, Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve has stayed true to the complexity and depth of the original film and it is hard to see the film succeeding without Ford in it. His character is central to the plot, and the ultimate twist. He delivers it with classic Ford charisma, but draws on whatever it is that makes for a truly special performance. Deckard may be older, but he is no less compelling.
His first encounter with K is full of tension. K senses that he's found Deckard hiding out in a Las Vegas casino, but as he moves through some of its rooms he finds it difficult to locate him - a nod to the final scene in the original when replicant leader Roy toys with Deckard in the abandoned high rise, only this time it's Deckard doing the evading while appearing to hold the upper hand. When they finally come face to face, Deckard's voice crackles with worn aggression. K remains as calm as we've become accustomed to, and draws Deckard out. The hand to hand that ensues is an Indiana Jones fight scene, with the edge of a Bladerunner film. Somehow, we just don't know who will win or how quickly one character might be killed - for those familiar with the original, think of Pris' and Leon's abrupt ends.
One of the most surprising characters in Blade Runner 2049 was played by Sylvia Hoeks. Her character Luv is beautifully contradictory; a replicant that appears to be wrestling with her 'human-ness' throughout the story, she fluctuates from appearing distraught at the callous behaviour of Wallace - the film's villain and her master - and pathologically detached as she delivers the most surgical kills of the movie. Keep an eye out for the scene between her and the brooding and altogether amazing Robin Wright who plays Lieutenant Joshi, K's boss.
Jared Leto is one of the only lowlights in the film as Wallace. Put simply, his character lacks gravitas. He's not far off the mark, but someone like Hugo Weaving would have been a better casting choice. While he is a talented actor, he doesn't have the menace to deliver the character. Compounding this is the fact that the movie was reduced from its original four hours to two hours and 44 minutes, possibly resulting in the lack of character development we think Wallace deserved.
As we’ve alluded to, the special effects are first rate. Thankfully, as was the case in the original film, there is a less is more approach. The pod that flies up above K's vehicle to collect data on a location is neat, as are the updated hand blasters. The scale of the film is genuinely epic. Some of the sweeping wide shots take the breath away, especially the giant statues and deep orange colouring of the scenes as K homes in on Deckard's radioactive Las Vegas hideout. The detail in many scenes is also spectacular, adding to the film's overall credibility. Like the attention to detail Peter Jackson paid to scenes in Bilbo's Hobbit hole, in one scene when K enters the orphanage, he has an exchange with the supervisor, Mister Cotton in a run down office. There are books and artefacts lying around that make it completely believable. A close up of the desk brings it home when Cotton slaps down an old leather ledger, revealing to K that the information he's after has been torn out.
The score could easily be by the original’s composer Vangelis. Zimmer’s and Wallfisch’s tracks are just as good, in some instances mirroring Vangelis’ street scenes and wider views of the original dystopia. The pulse and surge of the music has to be experienced in a theatre with the latest sound system. Nothing less will do. Zimmer and Wallfisch take us somewhere you can only get to in truly great films.
As an overall cinematic experience, Blade Runner 2049 delivers in spades. As a follow up to a classic, we think it's as good as any we've seen. In fact, we'll go out on a limb and say that Blade Runner 2049 will become known in years to come as the equal of its predecessor. A big call but such was our experience.
And if you expect to find out once and for all if Deckard is a replicant, don't expect any satisfaction on that front from this brilliant film.
Our rating 4.8/5 (must see).