Saturday 11 November 2017

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

A magnanimous science fiction epic, Blade Runner 2049 expands on the original with a rich quest for private and collective identity.

It's the titular year, and Agent K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant working for the Los Angeles Police Department, is a "blade runner", an expert at tracking down and retiring older generation rogue replicants. He uncovers the whereabouts of replicant Sapper Morton (David Bautista), a farmer who puts up a fierce fight before K gets the upper hand. Buried deep under a tree on Morton's property is a strong box. K's boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) and her team unearth the container and find it filled with the bones of a deceased replicant harbouring a shocking secret.

Joshi assigns K to track the origins of the bones, a journey that starts at the Wallace Corporation, the massive company that took over the assets of the replicants' original designer and manufacturer Tyrell. Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) suspects that the answers being sought by K could give him enormous additional influence, and instructs his chief enforcer replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to track K's movements. Helped by his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), K's inquiries lead him to replicant dream creator Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) and retired blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), hiding in the radiated wasteland of Las Vegas.

Set 30 years after the events of the first film and released 35 years after Ridley Scott's flawed and multi-versioned classic, Blade Runner 2049 is an unequivocal masterpiece. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the sequel breathes deeply from the world created by Scott and original short story author Philip K. Dick, and creates an absorbing, thought-provoking story about the evolution of what is real and what ultimately matters.

Villeneuve combines regular doses action with stunning visuals to bring Agent K's search to life, and the film is a lavish feast for the eyes. Every scene features an exposition of a future world offering little to celebrate but enthralling nonetheless. Crowded markets dominated by garish and holographic neon signs on imposing buildings, garbage disposal wastelands, the sleek innards of colossal corporations, and the ruins of a gaudy Las Vegas all flicker to life in visions both harrowing and unmistakably compelling.

In addition to playing with colours, contrasts, mists and glowing nighttime environments, Villeneuve frequently shoots through partially transparent surfaces, rain-covered windows a favourite technique, both to add artistry and heighten the sense of receding-but-still-there barriers between humans and machines. As a quibble, some of the sets are notable for their lack of animation, Agent K incongruently often the only presence at locations away from the central marketplace.

The music is co-composed by Hans Zimmer, and is jarring in its exquisite discordancy. Loud, synth-driven and often overbearing, Zimmer adds to the film's sensory texture but also frequently intrudes rather than complements.

Plotwise Blade Runner 2049 is a proper sequel, and it's well worth recalling Deckard's adventure from the first film to properly enjoy the rich continuation of the story. Agent K picks up snippets of the physical and emotional dangers Deckard encountered a generation prior, and 2049 collects the echoes and builds upon the themes of core identity at the individual and collective levels.

Agent K's quest quickly becomes deeply personal and yet carries boundless implications. This is an imaginative science fiction film where the threads of the future are already present. A coming era where robots are more prevalent and integrated into a deeply damaged society appears well within reach, and the screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green is as strong as all the visual splendor. Blade Runner 2049's abundant plot rewards concentration, and effortlessly expands into the 163 minutes of running time.

And while 2049 finds the safe harbour of elegant resolutions, it also offers an abundance of fertile material introduced and parked for future films to perhaps pick up upon. The Wallace Corporation is a menacing behemoth that deserves further investigation, while an entire subplot featuring working girl replicant Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) and her colleagues appears to be more about set-up than resolution. And the enigmatic dream scientist Dr. Ana Stelline has stories that can feature in subsequent episodes.

The performances are competent without needing to be more. Gosling, Ford and Wright are generally appropriately monotonal, although Gosling does ride some emotional ups and downs as his journey veers into more than one unexpected valley. And the characters intermingle with extrapolated science beyond the replicant premise. Ana de Armas is surprisingly effective as the holographic girlfriend, and instigates a very different kind of high-tech lovemaking scene. Sylvia Hoeks is icy cold as the chief villain, doing the dirty work of the blind Niander Wallace, who overcomes his disability with miniature drones connected to a chip implant.

A hypnotic showpiece, Blade Runner 2049 expounds on the premise of humanity as its creations begin to meld in a bleak, haunting and potentially prescient version of the future.

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