The highly anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner (1982) is directed by Quebec cinema prodigy, Denis Villeneuve, who has had a successful career directing Hollywood movies over the last few years. With Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival on his resume, Denis Villeneuve’s announcement as director of Blade Runner 2049 was welcome news that also held a lot of challenges.
Making a sequel to a classic movie is a daunting challenge. Let’s face it: sequels are rarely successful and personally, I did not want to see a director whose work I admire fail to live up to expectations. Villeneuve was well aware of that. In an interview, he said it was “the most ambitious yet riskiest project of [his] career.”
Based on a script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, Denis Villeneuve wanted to honour the original Blade Runner while paying tribute to the visuals created by Ridley Scott. At the same time, he also wanted to free himself from his considerable shadow.
Blade Runner 2049 is a story about a cop, another “blade runner”, played by Ryan Gosling, whose mission is to hunt down and execute renegade replicants. During a routine investigation, he makes a singular and intriguing discovery that sends him into a rabbit hole and leads him to meet the former blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
The Los Angeles of 2049 is a gray and lifeless city, in a gray and lifeless planet; seemingly abandoned by its inhabitants. Replicants – androids useful but largely ostracized – do the necessary work that humans do not want to do. Those humans who have remained on earth are constantly seeking to escape reality and finding comfort in replicants prostitutes or substituting holograms for girlfriends. The LA of the future is imagined from a heterosexual male perspective (so not very different from the today’s LA). It has a very sinister and desperate atmosphere but keeps, despite everything, a certain beauty.
The images Denis Villeneuve has put on film are striking: the landscapes are threatening and photographed in bright colors. Despite some notable differences, the director manages to honor the aesthetics of the original movie with its dark and menacing vision of the future (2019). In collaboration with Roger Deakins, the incredible director of photography, Villeneuve develops the visual motifs that Scott created 35 years ago while adding his own visual touch.
The camera manages to capture terrifying human dystopia in its malice and cruelty. Everyone (humans and replicants) is driven by the same survival instinct which consumes their whole, and these majestic images of a uninviting and inhospitable environment are intensified by the music of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish. We almost feel crushed by the creaking soundtrack.
Blade Runner 2049 is undeniably a delight for the senses : stimulating, dazzling. If I could find a downer to the movie it could be the fact that the philosophical and existential questions are treated on the surface, and the more deeper questions on the singularity, when the technological and the human converge and become one, are left out.
There is certainly a wonderful moment when two entities merge. Joi, K’s hologram girlfriend, hires Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), a replicating sex worker on whom Joi projects holographically to offer K the ‘real’ experience of having sex. Joi’s features merge with Mariette’s, she does her best to mimic the movements of a ‘real’ physical body. It is an intimate, fascinating, and somewhat disturbing scene, mixing the traits of the two actresses with subtle but disturbing interruptions.
In addition, the film brings several questions that remain unanswered. They are the very foundation of the film. Who made K? Between K and Ana, who is the most human? And of course, the most popular and disturbing question of all: is Deckard a human or a replicant? This brings us to the idea that androids can harbour feelings, desires, and dreams. It serves to create a sense of curiosity and perhaps even compassion from the viewer. But we also realize that these replicants serve as labor. Their exploitation is the fuel that carries this civilization.
The performances in the film are remarkable. Sylvia Hoeks is convincing in her role as an implacable and ruthless replicant in the pursuit of K. Ryan Gosling is impressive and can perfectly mirror the spirit behind the young K—a lost but cool replicant. Because even if he is patient, cynical, and cold, we quickly discover that it is only a facade. Much of his thoughts and actions centre on whether his life has a greater meaning than he has ever suspected.
As for Harisson Ford, his reputation precedes him. He is excellent in his role of the retired blade runner; tired, but still fighting for what he believes in.
Blade Runner 2049 is perhaps Denis Villeneuve’s most accomplished film. He manages to come out of the shadow of the original, bringing his share of questions while also pushing us to question what makes us human. Roger Deakins would well deserve his Oscar statuette for this magnificent masterpiece. I’m already looking forward to Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming film, Dunes.
Blade Runner 2049 is now playing in theatres.