Denis Villeneuve has quickly established himself as one of the most interesting directors in contemporary cinema. Any time you hear his name attached to a project, it’s almost impossible not to get excited. From the enigmatic Enemy to the box office smash, Arrival, there is always a conversation to be had after absorbing his directorial vision.
So, for the sake of this review, I’d like to establish two things: I really love Villeneuve’s work but I am by no means a fan of the original Blade Runner film. However, my interest was piqued when I saw the trailers for this sequel. The casting was exciting; the cinematography looked phenomenal and the score seemed epic.
Having sat through the nearly 3 hour film yesterday, I can honestly say I was neither over- nor underwhelmed. The run time – despite what many viewers have said – absolutely flies in and almost every aspect of the film that I hoped would deliver absolutely did so. There’s no messing about with the plot – it gets straight into the heart of the story. I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the best modern sequels I have seen. There are many, many positive attributes of this film – they far outweigh the niggles – but I can’t help feel that Blade Runner 2049 is still missing something.
One of the things that I wonder about is the original score. There was a bit of a furore when – seemingly last minute – Johann Johannson departed the sci-fi epic and was replaced by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. This, I feel, was a mistake as this score doesn’t come close to the original Vangelis effort. It feels too industrial and like it’s trying too hard to impress upon the viewer a sense of doom. It doesn’t need to be so forceful when the cinematography is as exciting as it is. For me, it feels too similar to that blaring horn sound that was peppered through Inception, and this is just not the same type of film.
The cinematography, however, is spectacular. It reminded me of steam punk meets The Ghost in the Shell anime meets those old Dolby Digital surround sound adverts. It’s so bleak and nightmarish. If you’re not being bombarded with rows of soulless buildings and cold, hard steel, you can practically taste the wash of orange radiation. It is, quite simply, stunning. Villeneuve and Roger Deakins – the man behind The Shawshank Redemption and No Country For Old Men – have worked together to visualise and create a truly epic vision of a futuristic Los Angeles. There were also some striking stand-alone images: For instance, I loved the scene where a new prototype was “birthed” from a clear sack and wriggled on the floor like a new calf.
Ryan Gosling’s central performance is also brilliant. Yes, he’s a Replicant, but he’s an android who is being confused by his own memories and doesn’t really seem to be enjoying his position as a hunter. He’s an interesting and complex character, and Gosling certainly delivers a nuanced and captivating performance. His on-screen time with Harrison Ford is definitely the strongest element of the film; the pair work really well together. Ford has actually become a better actor in his later years, with his reprisal of Deckard being no exception to this. He was excellent.
For me, there is a slight issue with some of the peripheral characters. I almost felt like Robin Wright and Jared Leto had other scenes that didn’t make the final cut – their characters seemed bitty and not fully developed. I was disappointed that an actress as strong and commanding as Wright came across as two-dimensional. And, seriously, can someone give Leto a break? Stop featuring him so heavily in trailers if he’s only in a film for ten minutes all in. I also hated the character of Love, but that’s simply because I don’t buy in to all that roundhouse kicks and flicks style of fighting.
The redeeming features of Blade Runner 2049 definitely outweigh any issues and it’s interesting to note that the film – despite the current appetite for reboots and sequels – is not performing well at the box office. It seemed like a safe bet, especially in the hands of Villeneuve. Perhaps many viewers, like me, walked out of the cinema feeling neither bowled over nor disappointed by it. It lingers somewhere in the middle – which is really sad, because Villeneuve is certainly not an average director.