When I was 6, my mum took me to see Ice Age at my local world of cinema, only for me to bawl my eyes out at the part where the animals return the baby to its father. Then, when I was a 15, tears poured down my cheeks at the end of Toy Story 3 as Andy said goodbye to his beloved toys. And if you didn’t cry at the start of Up, then there might be something wrong with your tear ducts. But now, at the age of 21, I found myself in a cinema with a solitary tear rolling down my face – but this time as the rather modest credits started to roll at the end of Blade Runner: 2049.
These are certainly not films that are particularly comparable for obvious reasons, so why then did I find myself crying at the end of an almost three-hour, mostly solemn, sci-fi epic? The answer is perhaps one of the strongest reasons why I regard this film as one of the best science fiction films of our generation – I couldn’t help it.
I cannot and will not give much away in terms of the narrative or the characters, because this film needs to be experienced on the biggest screen, with the best speakers, with as little knowledge about the film as is possible in this modern age. But essentially, the film picks up thirty years after the original, where the realistic androids known as “replicants” have been reintergrated into society and only the older models are still hunted by the “blade runner” police units. Ryan Gosling plays one such blade runner, who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that could have major implications for both humans and replicants, as well as dealing with his own place within the world.
If there has ever been a film that shows the importance of the cinematic experience, it is this one. From the moment that the opening shot appeared on-screen and the booming, futuristic screeches of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s euphoric and fantastical score crashed through the speakers around me, I knew that this film had the potential to be special. Roger Deakins has been the butt of many jokes surrounding failed Oscar winners, but a golden statue must surely have his name on this year because his cinematography is the most visceral and truly breath-taking I have seen in a “traditional blockbuster”. The bold oranges and blues that consistently intertwine throughout the film are mesmerising enough, but the lighting in every scene is just spectacular. The bubble-gum neon colours in the street advertisements pop like the very thing they take their colour from, contrasted with the greys of the landscape and the vehicles that buzz around like wasps in the city. The set design that contains flashes of ancient cultures within the advanced technical society, most notably in Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace’s almost Egyptian meeting rooms, are a constant reminder of humanity’s evolution.
“one of the best science fiction films of our generation”
This has been a film thirty-five years in the making, but yet the universe of Blade Runner still feels as thriving as ever. Both the lingering shots of the futuristic cityscapes blended with the vivid and bustling nature of the streets of LA make a world that is much more alive than any sci-fi franchise I know. Villeneuve carefully constructs this world. He takes the time to set up objects and technologies that don’t necessarily have major implications to the overall narrative, but create real emotional connections between things that are purely logically driven. And this is at the heart of why this film is so good. In a world filled with emotionally distant robots, there is so much heart and complex emotion throughout, not least from Ana de Armas’s siri-type holographic character Joi, who really is a revelation; much of the philosophy surrounding humanity comes from her.
The cast are all exceptional, perhaps except Leto whose distant and almost self-indulgent delivery does begin to grate, but only a little. Gosling is excellent – at his Drive best – reserved yet completely engaging at all times and it is hard to think about this film being as good without his performance. He has an unnatural knack for pulling an audience in while being emotionally restrained.
Harrison Ford returns and showcases his best dramatic work for many a year, with a real heavy hearted Deckard that pulls on those emotional heartstrings without every becoming emotional himself. There are no great speeches here about what it means to be human, but rather those types of speeches are conveyed through the performances and the camera work is a truly remarkable way. There are flashes of action, but there are few and far between and if anything not the parts of the film that are the most interesting. But they’re still mesmerising to watch. There is more quality in the few action sequences you are given here than in any Michael Bay film I can think of.
“perhaps Denis Villeneuve’s best work yet as he places himself as A new directorial mastermind”
All of this, is not to say that the film is perfect – what film is? It is a tremendously slow and methodical film, similar to the original, which could understandably put people off when coupled with the astonishing two hour and forty-three minutes run time. But the film embraces its slow pace rather than create it as a by-product. Very much like the first, Blade Runner: 2049 tells its story and explores its themes in a precise and specific way – pre-calculated and meticulous and if that isn’t for you, then this film certainly won’t be. Some of the pacing however does feel a little choppy in the middle act, as the intricate thematic explorations the film takes can come following a major plot discovery that would normally propel the narrative of a more conventional film. The film ends leaving some loose ends lying around and if there is to be a sequel then perhaps these will be cleared up, but there is a sense of finality about the final few moments that mean these plot points just seem merely forgotten. There are some characters that are introduced merely as plot devices that feel out of place within a world where even ‘replicants’ are given huge sensitive connections with the audience. But these are nit-picky things that in no way detract from what it is perhaps Denis Villeneuve’s best work yet as he places himself as new directorial mastermind alongside the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola.
There are some films that you just know will be remembered for years to come, those that resonate with people, redefine a genre or even just reinvigorate one. Blade Runner: 2049 does none of those things. It is its own entity, a polymorphic film that will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. It is a film that does nothing more than what it set out to be – a wonderful and thought-provoking sequel to one of the most influential films ever made. It does not dangle sequels in front of you, nor constantly reference the previous film with “Easter Eggs”, nor does it try and do everything bigger and better. Like the very characters that inhabit this cyber-infused world, it simply is. I implore you, whether this seems like your sort of film or not, to see it. It is definitely not for everyone, but one I plead you to see regardless.
And as I sat in my cinema seat as the film finished, I was obviously reminded of Roy Batty’s incredible speech from the end of the first film. That ‘all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain,’ speech? If that was the thing to take away from the first film, then Blade Runner: 2049 comes with one hell of a rebuttal. That just because those moments are eventually and inevitably lost and forgotten, it does not mean that they are not worth having to start with.
Thanks to VUE EXETER for providing this screening!