Blade Runner 2049 is a multifaceted surprise; that this picture was made at all is an unlikeliness to rival its improbable quality. A sequel to a complex and then-underappreciated box office flop, its subtlety and patience are testament to a film-making enterprise which may not have been purely motivated by financial gain, for once.
Denis Villeneuve directs with the assurance channelled in Sicario and Arrival, with some of the former’s steadfast appreciation for audience discomfort, and plenty of the latter’s foreboding sense of weighty significance. Our protagonist is ‘K’, a blade runner in the Rick Deckard model, at first glance. He’s calm, occasionally brutal and decisive.
Yet unlike Deckard, he is unambiguously a replicant – one of a line of more obedient androids brought into circulation as a result of the events of the original Blade Runner. This is an immediate and intelligent scripting decision, a logical extension of the original canon which sets up further questions and dynamics.
‘K’ in time wrestles with questions of the soul, self-determination and destiny, and the film gives him time and space in which to do so. Blade Runner 2049 is a mammoth film in scale; it is long, loud and massive, and imposing in the extreme. Suffused with bewildering and astonishing imagery, Villeneuve’s penchant for the monumental finds the perfect cipher in repeat collaborator Roger Deakins. As power couples go, this is a lopsided one given Deakins’s enduring genius; yet their work together is of the highest quality, and this is their apex so far.
Neons blaze on the sides of buildings, landscapes extend into the distance in craggy lines, and the colour palette shifts from brightest white to vibrant orange, dismal uniform grey to deep, suffocating blue. The film is utterly ravishing, admitting the odd beauty of its settings while more or less surreptitiously critiquing the society they represent. Misogyny is writ large on the cityscape of Los Angeles, inherited from Ridley Scott’s original and problematised far more deliberately than its originator.
Women are bought, upgraded, farmed and abused in this world. Yet Robin Wright and Hiam Abbass represent opposing ideologies which dominate it; Wright’s gruff lieutenant, a smirk towards a typically male role, scrabbles to suppress a revolution, while Abbass hastens to bring it about. Femininity dictates this vision of our future, despite its obvious subjugation, and this feels a creditable problematisation of a cinematic legacy.
As Gosling navigates through this murky and trustless world he channels a dark naivety that is a wonderful foil to the Harrison Ford’s gruff brutalism, old and new. His acts of violence are less impactful than those repeatedly inflicted upon him, another strand in the crystalline structure of the film. Is masculine power thus undermined as female agency is explored, or is this a look askance at the film’s most obvious dynamic – slave labour and power structures?
This film towers and looms over you. In IMAX it will shudder through you, dazing and stupefying you in a way which few modern blockbusters attempt. It is a laudable and worthy success and successor.