It’s the year 2049. Earth is in its final stage of decay as fumes and debris have blocked out the sun entirely and human waste smothers whole cities. The world is divided between humans and replicants (bioengineered humans), with the latter living as slaves. Replicants who revolt are killed or ‘retired’ by bounty hunters called blade runners. Enter Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant blade runner who discovers a secret that has the potential to transform the world once again, for better or for worse.
Blade Runner 2049 is undoubtedly one of 2017’s most anticipated films. Thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott hands the directorial reigns over to Denis Villeneuve, best known for his Academy Award winning Arrival (2016). Villeneuve and the entire crew of Blade Runner 2049 have successfully kept the plot details of the film buried beneath tantalising trailers and cryptic hints during interviews. Entering the cinema virtually blind to any sort of premise was perhaps the most rewarding part of watching it slowly unfold.
Known for his nuanced style of film-making and the beautiful cinematography that accompanies his projects, Villeneuve has created a feast for the eyes with his latest feature. The opening few shots are portraits of the complete desolation of this dystopian landscape, following an unknown environmental or nuclear disturbance. A tree that towers above an artificial farming complex is leafless and skeletal. Surrounding it is a barren country with the earth cracked from dryness and the sky a sickly grey colour. It is a truly harrowing depiction of what Earth may become soon enough.
The city of L.A, where Officer K is based, paradoxically appears as a familiar modern setting and an apocalyptic slum. Building from the original vision set up by Philip K Dick in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Villeneuve’s L.A is characterised by gargantuan skyscrapers with holographic advertisements (Coca Cola and Sony have survived somehow in this parallel universe) and low rise tenant buildings and darkened alleyways. Replicants and humans are indistinguishable from each other, courtesy of the Wallace Corporations and its CEO, played by Jared Leto. While the rest of the cast is incredibly strong in their performances, Leto’s part feels under-written and perhaps over-acted. Elsewhere, Robin Wright takes on the role as Officer K’s tenacious boss and Harrison Ford, after a thirty year hiatus, reprises his role as Rick Deckard (in a sequence that is one of the most memorable parts of the film).
The score of Blade Runner 2049 exceeds expectations, with Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer recreating the surrealist tone of the first film. At times, the score, with its booming synthesizers, overwhelms the picture on screen but this somehow seems appropriate and only further emphasises the scale of this industrialised cityscape.
At its heart, Blade Runner 2049 like its predecessor, is a neo-noir film and like many of the classics that the film draws inspiration from, it crawls along at a snail’s pace. However, it is not so much the plot but the ambiance that the audience stick around for until the credits roll.
The question that precedes over the whole of the film is one that seems to be troubling society of late. In a posthuman world, where do we draw the line between human and machine? Blade Runner 2049 examines this with much more fervour than the previous film and despite one scene in particular that feels like a rip-off of Spike Jonze’s Her (2014), it manages to blur the answer and let the audience try to unearth it for themselves.
There are moments in Villeneuve’s feature that are drawn out and unnecessary, and characters that could have been better developed but on the whole, Blade Runner 2049 is everything that fans of the original wanted. Villeneuve’s vision is hypnagogic, from the dread inducing score to the detail in every shot. It is a film that invites you into an imagined but possible future of our own world and insists that you find your own way out again.