‘Blade Runner 2049’ reviewed

Time to shine… for the most unexpected masterpiece in years!

It would be remiss not to make reference to Roy Batty’s superlative monologue as he dies (It’s one of the most exquisitely written monologues, on a par with many of William Shakespeare’s, made all the more extraordinary that it was largely improvised) in some fashion, but in truth Blade Runner 2049 shows things we people couldn’t believe. All those moments are captured on film, like tears in rain. Time to shine… for the most unexpected masterpiece in years.

First things first, to many within the converted  Blade Runner (1982) is more than just a movie. It’s more than just a style of life. Its more than just sci-fi. For many dedicated followers, it is THE movie, THE style of life, THE sci-fi. You could put Blade Runner in the pantheon of terrific sci fi films as Star Wars, Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but at the same time it doesn’t belong there. It belongs in a pantheon unto itself, a headway for music videography, dystopian cinematography, soul stifled theatre, musical ambience as art, the auteur as main character, ambigious arching, sanguine soul-searching, cyberpunk iconography and Nietzchean imagery.

Rain soaked in frame, visceral in design, Blade Runner’s been drenched in the mind of every Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Guillermo Del Toro and Frank Darabont worth their salt; Brazil and Guardians of The Galaxy pilfered from the design, Moby and Kuedo took from the Vangelis score, few graphic novels could avoid ‘Blade Runner’ as text-stone (although Alan Moore has never commented as such, one can’t help but notice shades of the Ridley Scott film in Moore’s magnum opus Watchmen). So, its to Denis Villeneuve’s eternal credit that he’s made a film that stands proudly beside its older sibling; much like its predecessor, it could be compartmentalised in a list of great sci-fi sequels (Empire Strikes Back, Aliens,’The Wrath of Khan), but once again, it couldn’t. It belongs in its own category- and that’s what makes it perfect!

And nobody could believe such a film of this calibre could be made. The Godfather Part III came a mere fifteen or so years after the second Godfather– and  everyone wishes that never existed. Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull  still exists in people’s memories- and for exactly the wrong reasons! Trainspotting 2 was a fine film, but was it the most essential of sequels? Does anyone care for another Avatar after the bones of a decade? Did people really desire to know how the Nostromo crew found themselves in space? Seriously, how well does The Force Awakens, once the fanfare apparatus has died from memory, hold up? And yet there’s ‘2049’, an unnecessary sequel coming thirty five years  to one of the greatest films of all time(itself a commercial and critical flop on initial release)- and it is one of the most indellible and vital films since Blade Runner, encompassing and continuing the first film, but maintaining a stance all on its own two origamic feet.

Villeneuve joked to the Montreal Gazette that he’d made the most expensive art house film ever made, and art house is the correct adjective to describe it. It’s layered in subtext, startlingly stark, beautifully blanche-noire in themes, sky-lined in camera, Nouvelle Vague in atmosphere, the camera and the music as much a central character as Ryan Gosling’s Officer K is.

Just as Harrison Ford gave a career best performance in his first film, so too does Gosling give his A-game to the role. He brings the effortless cool he simmered in Drive and Only God Forgives, but with a vulnerability, nuance and solemnity he’s never brought to the proceedings. He emulates the ghost of the younger Rick Deckard, but he creates his own skin around Agent K, a different beast, a haleycorn of epitmiosal beauty. (If Villeneuve can deliver this out of Gosling, goodness knows what he can show the world with Daniel Craig’s 007, allegedly the next film on his ever growing timetable). Where Ford brought shades of Humphrey Bogart, Gosling brings the spirits of Newman and McQueen, silent anti-heroics shadowed by shades of venerability and vulnerability. Were the Academy Awards less sniffy of awarding acting gongs to sci-fi films, then Gosling would certainly deserve a nomination (Sigourney Weaver received one in 1987, so there’s always hope!)

The other cast members are just as  strong, at times even finer than many from the original (Robin Wright and Dave Bautista have more commanding presence than Daryl Hannah or Brion James, though none of the performances can topple Rutger Haeur’s Roy Batty- though arguably only Tom Noonan’s Francis Dohalryde and  Heath Ledger’s The Joker have matched such a maniacal performance since 1982).

Jared Leto brings an eerie otherworldiness to a part originally sketched with David Bowie in mind (though as fine as The Thin White Duke would have been, Leto is perfectly cast as the archaicly blind Niander Wallace,a theatric he brought to life on set, much to the shock of his director). Ana de Armais brings a sensuality, femme fatale deviance and cerebral magnetism to the part of Joi, a mechanised woman, changing from trophy wife to sex doll when needed.  Harrison Ford’s return to a role he inhabited thirty five years ago is more than mere fan service (unlike other films)- he once again proves he is a very, very good actor. “I did your job once – I was good at it.” he says behind a wall of ennui only age can provide (if you’re wondering if he’s a replicant or not, well, you’re not going to find out in this review).

The thirty year gap has worked well in his stead, without taking from his most precious creation (yes, his most precious, Deckard is more thoughtful than Han Solo and more exigous than Indiana Jones). It’s the natural progression of age, the ghosts and skeletons of his younger self evident on screen, in the vestige of a different man. Ford has not been this good in years, perhaps his best performance since ‘The Fugitive’, ‘Witness’ even.

Hampton Fancher, the chief architect of the original, returns to scribe the sequel with Michael Green (Logan, Alien:Covenant) in place of David Peoples. Padded with the usual pedigree of bon mots and one liners (“more human than human”, “I know what is real”, “I can only create so many[replicants]”),   the film is notably closer to the spirit of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? than ‘lade Runner’itself was. Barren desertlands brings the skulls and ghosts of the environmental prophecies detailed in Dick’s prose, wooden carvings of horses echo the literary Deckard’s desire for a real animal (there’s a very obvious, but subtle,  nod to the  book’s title courtesy of one of the original cast member’s return).

Leading the viewer’s eye is Roger Deakins (whose C.V. alone, Fargo, SkyFall, The Shawshank Redemption merits him as one of  the greatest cinematographers of his generation), delivering his finest work to date. At 163 minutes, the run-time may seem initially daunting for the casual film-goer, but as with the best of Euro-flavoured art-house (Paris, Texas, Betty Blue, Stranger Than Paradise) , the film is padded with so many intimacies and inncouties to contain the viewer’s ever wandering eye.  A rain soaked Los Angeles, a desolate, derelict Las Vegas and the opaque wonder of Wallace building all have nice cotrasts and textures; viewed in IMAX, this is a film even more beautiful than the original masterwork (Dennis Gassner’s productions satisfyingly pay enough respect to Ridley Scott’s original, but have more desolate textures, Edward Hopper very much at the forefront again). Pirouetting some Vangelis cues from the original Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch deliver another cerebral score, more thunderous in sound, apocalyptic in resonance over images of an ever rising tidal wave of mass destruction.

Villenueve may joke that its the most expensive art house movie ever made, but it’s also one of the most exquisite art house movies ever made. Villeneuve, Gosling, Ford, Fancher, Green, Deakins, Zimmer, Gassner, each an artist at the top of their game; and it is artistry that’s on display here. Villeneuve has shown the world things it would never believe – time to shine!

❉ ‘Blade Runner 2049’ directed by Denis Villeneuve is in theatres from 6 October 2017.


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