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Blade Runner 2049 - DVD Review

Blade Runner 2049

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

IS there a more exciting filmmaker working in contemporary cinema than Denis Villeneuve right now?

Having delivered one of the most clinical and exciting action thrillers in recent years, in the form of Sicario, he then made one of the most jaw-dropping science fiction films ever with Arrival. In both cases, he showed that it is possible to combine spectacle with intelligent thinking and highly engaging emotional content.

His latest, Blade Runner 2049, is perhaps even more remarkable an achievement for the way in which it confounds pre-built expectations. For while Sicario and Arrival emerged as stunning surprises, this belated follow-up to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner arrives with many sceptics in tow.

Could Villeneuve match, let alone surpass, that original? Well, the answer is a resounding yes. Based on a script that was co-written by original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher and Alien Covenant‘s Michael Green, Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning, intellectually stimulating and – at times – emotionally devastating.

It’s a film that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, to properly take in the spectacle. But it’s also one that resonates on a human level, working just as well during its smaller, more intimate moments as it does the grand-standing set pieces.

The story is essentially a neo-noir missing person thriller. It follows K (Ryan Gosling), a new generation blade runner who is programmed to hunt down the last remaining Nexus 8 replicants that occupied the first film. After one brutal encounter with a protein farmer (Dave Bautista), K makes a discovery that has life-altering implications, and which puts him on a path to finding Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the rogue blade runner from the first film, who has long since gone into hiding.

The ensuing hunt may take its time to unfold (clocking in at two hours and 43 minutes) but it also allows Villeneuve and company (including regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, back on Oscar-worthy form) the time to really preserve and enhance the look of Scott’s original, while building a set of characters who are genuinely worth spending that much time with.

And while there are plenty of expected nods to the 1982 movie, stylistically as well as narratively, Villeneuve still manages to inject plenty of ingenuity into proceedings, while furthering the debates surrounding the nature of existence and the complexities of love and social standing.

A sequence involving a three-way love scene may sound kinky, for example, but it’s done in such a way as to be romantic and unlike anything you’ve witnessed before. While there’s something incredibly spellbinding about witnessing a thrilling chase scene amid the neon-lit skyscrapers of a dark, rain-soaked LA.

Villeneuve is bold in his delivery of the set piece moments, mixing tried and tested genre traits with unexpected twists. It lends the film an immediacy and an edge that can be missing from other blockbusters of its type.

And yet he’s not afraid to ensure that the story works on a human level – even if the ‘humans’ he’s predominantly dealing with are, in fact, replicants looking for their own take on humanity.

Hence, while Gosling’s K may exist in a certain cold, calculated state, which offers very little room for emotional complexity, the moments he delivers bursts of anguish or romance are all the more affecting – and the actor does a great job of combining the minimalist with something broader and more endearing.

Blade Runner 2049

Ford, meanwhile, is afforded the opportunity to tap into a rare vulnerability that effectively juxtaposes his more naturally gruff demeanour. Deckard’s journey, albeit limited in terms of the screen-time, is utterly captivating and contributes to a wholly satisfying, even emotionally draining, climax.

Yet throughout, there are performances to savour, including several strong roles for female characters. Ana De Armas brings innocence and charm to her role as K’s virtual reality girlfriend, Joi (thereby imbuing the film with much of its early soul), while Sylvia Hoek is terrific as a new model replicant named Luv, a clinical right-hand to Jared Leto’s eerie corporate villain Niander Wallace, who sort of has the Rutger Hauer-style role.

And Robin Wright once again shines as K’s no-nonsense, yet oddly sympathetic boss Lieutenant Joshi.

The world that Villeneuve creates is breath-taking, too, embellishing much of what Scott created, yet mixing up the palette with several different landscapes – such as the red desert sands of Vegas or a beautifully snowy clinical facility.

His vision is entirely seductive, and further enhanced by an often pulse-pounding score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, which pays homage to the future electronic elements of the Vangelis original, while also drawing on the wall of sound-style build-ups that have become a recent Zimmer trait.

And that’s not forgetting the eye-catching, and sometimes mind-boggling, technical insights into the future, or the colourful city-scapes, many of which feature beautiful Geisha-style women holographs attempting to sell you something. This really is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the brain.

But then Blade Runner 2049 excels on so many levels that it’s easy to overlook some of its flaws, which extend to an under-used but overly verbose Jared Leto and the rare over-indulgence concerning plot ambiguities, product placement or further sequel hints.

At a time when science fiction seems to be enjoying a strong resurgence (off the back of the likes of Arrival, Westworld and Ex_Machina), Blade Runner 2049 continues to raise the possibilities of what the genre can achieve.

Villeneuve, meanwhile, further enhances his reputation as one of cinema’s most prodigious talents of all-time, a director for whom it is easy to run out of superlatives.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 163mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: February 5, 2018