Thirty five years after director Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir Blade Runner, which is widely regarded as a masterpiece, Denis Villeneuve takes the helm of the sequel. From the get-go, Villeneuve paints Blade Runner 2049 in his unique style. This is a rare, unhurried, futuristic film, much like Villeneuve’s Arrival – philosophical and meditative.
In the early scenes, Villeneuve does away with background music, using the ghostly silence of a barren landscape to set the mood as we see blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) going about his duty. K’s story unravels over two and a half hours. In a dystopian future, blade runners are police officers sent out to track down and terminate older model replicants, the word they used to describe humanoid men and women. K stumbles upon a secret that leads him to replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and back to Rick Deckard, the blade runner from the original movie.
Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s screenplay revisits characters from Philip K Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Villeneuve’s direction adds soul to the story. He dwells on the importance of memory, the need for human contact and relationships and the blurred lines between the human and laboratory-produced artificial intelligence. He revisits the wonder of birth and miracles and reminds us of the terrible destruction of the environment that is catapulting us into a dusty, dark and bleak future. Production designer Dennis Gassner and cinematographer Roger Deakins use monochromes and back-lighting to create stunning landscapes and visuals, though there are one too many towering female forms (either holograms or moulded statues).
We are made to wait and earn the return of Deckard (Harrison Ford). We meet a handful of fascinating characters along the way, kitted out in stunning costumes, who arrive and exit without fanfare or prolonged farewells. These include Leto as the blind villain Wallace and Robin Wright as K’s boss. But the two women who give Blade Runner 2049 its punch are Ana de Armas as K’s love Joi and Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace’s mean enforcer. Leto’s portrayal of Wallace, who should have been the menacing villain of this piece, is the most cliched.
Harrison Ford is given a nuanced part that he plays with sensitivity while retaining the grouchy humour one associates with the actor. The little dance between Deckard and K is brilliantly played out in a punch-up in an abandoned club as an Elvis Presley hologram flickers in the background. Ryan Gosling is inexpressive for the most part, relying mostly on the upturned collar of his dark, leathery trench coat to convey the sinister. But he’s so incredibly easy on the eyes and hits his stride so firmly as the saga develops that you find yourself rooting for his little hopes and fears.