Saturday, 7 October 2017

Review: Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (first-pass / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 15 / 163 mins / Dir. Denis Villeneuve / Trailer

You've come here for a review of Blade Runner 2049, and in much the same way as Kingsman, you've arrived with two questions. Again, the answer to the first is "yes, very much so" and to the second, "no, but how could it be?". Because you're an impatient soul, I've put my lengthier-than-usual pre-amble in the first footnote. You're welcome. Discussion of the film begins after the next paragraph.

First things first: before going to see Blade Runner 2049, I'd advise you to watch the three prequel/lead-in shorts, Black Out 2022, 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere To Run. Along with the timeline over at Collider, they cover key events which occurred between the first Blade Runner set in 2019 and the new movie. This isn't essential homework, but any background exposition in BR2049 is fleeting and largely conversational, so it's handy to have this grounding beforehand.

The story follows Los Angeles detective and Blade Runner, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) as a routine retirement job opens a potentially huge can of worms. K's boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), anxious to avoid the ire of her superiors and attention of the powerful replicant-manufacturing corporations, orders her young charge to tie the case up as efficiently as possible (ie not sparing the gunfire). But K's inquisitive nature leads him along a trail to former assassin Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), in a place where the ghosts of the past are buried almost as well as the conspiracies of the present…

So the first thing which strikes the viewer about Villeneuve's sequel is how light it can be in L.A. Whereas Ridley Scott's telling took place almost exclusively at night, the tale's pickup point features scenes at various times and varied run-down environments. It's never sunny of course, with only the dregs of humanity left behind on a near-ruined planet, whatever passes for natural daylight only serves to illuminate the brittle shell of a world even more harshly. Although undoubtedly existing in the same timeline, this only really looks like the same Blade Runner on the occasions we see the city's filthy skeleton lit only by neon and gunfire. But if the visual theme in 1982 was of darkness and rain, 2017's is more desperation and rust.

And this difference is the key to the film's greatest strength: BR2049 never feels like the retread that would have been the path of least resistance so far as writing is concerned. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher returns, in the company of Michael Green, and together they've created a continuation of the story, rarely slowing to nod at the audience with knowing familiarity*4. Of course, the pressure is on Villeneuve to deliver a work as profound as its forebear, but going in with that expectation is likely to lead to over-symbolising what is essentially a beautifully shot detective movie. Villeneuve doesn't explore the same avenues as Scott did, or leave the viewer with the same (or even as many) questions. That's not to say there isn't plenty to think about afterwards of course, but there's no book to cross-reference it all against, this time.

At a run-time which won't give you much change out of three hours, the pace is languorous to the point of self-indulgent, but Roger Deakins' cinematography earns that effortlessly (although Sony's shameless product placement is at an all-time high). And for a production with such a wide-ranging cast-list, the lion's share of our time is spent with Gosling, Ford and Sylvia Hoeks' antagonist Luv (who deftly steals every single one of her scenes). Gosling seems almost perfectly cast in his role as our guide through the shattered landscape, and Ford brings more of latter-day Solo than latter-day Jones to his reprisal (thankfully*5).

To say any more would probably be to delve into what makes this so enjoyable, and begin to spoil it in the process. Other than a grounding in Blade Runner and the shorts linked above, try to see this 'clean'. But do try to see it.

Was I blown away by Blade Runner 2049? No.

Do I think the film will have a cultural longevity which will become more intriguing as each year passes? No.

But did I think exactly the same when I first saw its predecessor? Yeah.
What do I know?

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Well, Blade Runner.
To the point where it's fairly essential that you've at least seen the first one

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
The cinema is the natural home of this outstanding-looking piece of work, yes.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it just about does.
But I also think the film could have set out to achieve more

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
For the most part no, although there could be a couple of exceptions in there.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't. For shame.
Couple of perfect moments for one, too

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Han Solo's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 This is the pre-amble which was too long to feasibly put as part of the main review. It was written before watching Blade Runner 2049. And as flowery and self-important as this seems (okay, is), it felt worse to give the introduction its own separate blog post, somehow. That's the kind of treatment usually reserved for Star Wars, after all.

So. Where to begin? Although as a youngster I'd read the comic adaptation which filled out the page-count in Marvel UK's Return of the Jedi Weekly, I first came to the actual film of Blade Runner in the mid 90s. And I first began to fully appreciate it about five years later (and even that's been a constantly increasing curve rather than an off/on switch). Ridley Scott's 1982 neo-noir masterpiece is the gift which keeps on giving; still finding new audiences, still beguiling old ones, still being discussed and dissected after thirty five years. And comparing the movie with Philip K Dick's source-novel only raises more questions as that's a thematic whirlpool of its own, yet the works seem to feed off each other with each re-visit. I don't think I'll ever be done with either.

So it may seem unduly harsh to say this, but Blade Runner is a film which categorically does not need a sequel. The loose ends of Rick, Rachel and replicant-retirement don't need tying up. Indeed the movie's ambiguity is what makes it so satisfying, its point-blank refusal to put a bow on the story, despite a superficially happy ending. So in helming the follow-up, director Denis Villeneuve has his work cut out, even with (or perhaps more accurately because of*2) Ridley Scott's return in an exec-producer role.

And yet, am I happy a sequel exists? Hell yeah. But if Blade Runner 2049 is to be a worthy follow-up, there's no way I can begin unpacking it after a first viewing*3. If I leave the cinema understanding everything I've seen then the film has failed on some level. I expect to be talking about BR2049 for a long time to come. So y'know, no pressure Denis.

With all this in mind, what follows above is a first-reaction. More of a 'should I see it?' than 'why should I see it?'. You already know if this flick is going to be for you, and for obvious reasons you can take your own baggage and tailor your own expectations accordingly. But tonight we're gonna party like it's 2049. [ BACK ]

*2 My own concerns with Mr. Scott have been written about elsewhere, but it's hardly controversial to say that his return to the Alien franchise has had a mixed reception. And yes, footnotes within footnotes. It's very much that kind of film [ BACK ]

*3 I haven't even got round to going back to Villeneuve's Arrival yet, even though I know it fully deserves the time. But it's his work on that movie in particular which tells me he's the right choice for Blade Runner 2049. [ BACK ]

*4 Although the writers do place one rather ungainly elephant in the room by means of unnecessary callback, but I'll leave that until my next review. [ BACK ]

*5 And I say this as one of the twelve people in the world who actually like Crystal Skull, but Harrison Ford's dramatic range isn't particularly wide. He's only great at being varying shades of Harrison Ford™, and thankfully the one we get here is Weary Ford rather than Curmudgeonly Ford. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - I've always thought Do Androids Dream had a very light and sunny feel. I dunno if I'll get round to seeing this at the cinema, but I do want to see it.