The ‘worst summer in over a decade’ for mainstream cinema is marked perhaps most significantly by failed franchise attempts in The Dark Tower, The Mummy, Valerian, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and the latest in already well-worn fading franchises, of which Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, and to a lesser extent, Alien: Covenant.
After a summer featuring a few big hits and a large number of critical and commercial failures, one of Stephen King’s better adaptations of the year, IT, breaks massive records in autumn, overshadowing Darren Aronofsky’s thriller mother! in the lead up to Halloween. However, post-summer cinema has seen an incline in quality and therefore success across the board so far. It is a shame then, that deservedly critically acclaimed Blade Runner 2049 has struggled to reach even a third of its $150 million production budget.
If there’s anything to learn from summer 2017, it’s that audiences and critics have become somewhat disenfranchised with, well, the franchise – every movie now having to intertextually reference another in a shared, studio-owned universe. It is not just film critics that turn their noses up at sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes, especially in regards to classic and beloved science-fiction. Sinful remakes of Robocop and Total Recall both leave a lot to be desired, where Dredd‘s remake improves upon the original and then some. It’s a difficult landscape to assess when choosing a film to watch, so it is understandable that announcements of a Blade Runner sequel were met by some amount of suspicion.
That being said, Blade Runner 2049 is everything mainstream cinema should be, and highlights the fact that, if a sequel is done properly, with all due respect to the style, narrative, character and tone of the original movie, it can stand on the same pedestal as the revered cult film that started it all.
Denis Villeneuve’s direction sublimely takes us back to the tech noir universe of Harrison Ford’s Deckard, and we are glad to tag along. Now thirty years into the future, ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) must unravel a plot with the missing Deckard at the very heart of it. Injecting some of the themes of family sentimentality explored in Arrival, Villeneuve repaints the images iconic of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner with a modern, digital brush, marrying CGI with practical effects in a truly mesmerizing fashion.
From the neon streets of LA in which rain pitter-patters off of every metallic surface to the heavenly golden glow of what is essentially the ‘villains lair’ and all the way to the deep, rusty, vibrant oranges of the forgotten wastes of Las Vegas, every shot in Blade Runner 2049 is a true work of art, a masterclass in cinematography from none other than Hollywood legend Roger Deakins. Every shot conjures up feelings of a future devoid of all hope and happiness, paying enormous tribute and homage to the film that paved the way for 2049.
It can’t be said enough, this film is a gorgeous, stylish science-fiction vision sporting a refreshing narrative in which the arc of ‘the chosen one’ so embedded within Hollywood cinema is shed in favour of something distinguished and daringly depressing. Our hero’s journey takes an unexpected turn towards a bittersweet conclusion so unique to the average science-fiction blockbuster fare.
Exceptional visuals, a deep thoughtful soundtrack and masterful direction is bolstered by performances, every nuanced character, big or small, from Jared Leto’s mysterious Niander Wallace, to Dave Bautista’s replicant-in-hiding and Harrison Ford’s return as the classic cult character. Ryan Gosling’s tormented Blade Runner, Officer K, of course ties the whole experience neatly together; we witness his programmed obedience deteriorate over time the more he learns and the more he questions his own conception. ‘Am I a real boy?’ is one of the major questions burning in K’s biomechanical heart, and Gosling does extremely well in conveying human traits (hope, desire, and most importantly, the questioning of existence) within the limits of replicant programming. As the neat threads of K’s life begin to unravel, Gosling excels as the not-hero of Blade Runner 2049.
In Ridley Scott’s tradition of marrying CGI with practical effects, something I believe to be the ultimate in creative decisions when it comes to shooting a blockbuster, results in one of the best blockbusters of the year, and perhaps one of 2017’s best movies all together. Allowing the traditional arts to merge in such a way with the digital, as opposed to having Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor stand in front of an overt green screen for three hours, makes the spectacular Blade Runner all the more impressive.
A revitalised universe revisited marks a surprisingly strong sequel in the land of failed follow-ups, prequels and reboots, Villeneuve once again proving himself to be one of Hollywood’s most powerful directors. While a shame that Blade Runner 2049 has not even begun to make its money’s worth at the box office, its high regard with critics and audiences who have watched the film highlights a film well worth watching. It’s still in cinema. Go. Do it! Come onnnn! Do it nowwwww!
The Film Fanatic