Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 ★★★★★

You can't reinvent the wheel. But you can make it work better.

Cinema has come a long way. In many ways, it has come too far for us to see much that is completely new and totally original. Blade Runner 2049 or, in fact, any movie that comes along now doesn't have the benefit that a movie like Things To Come had, of being made in a time where creating visuals that could amaze was easier by virtue of the fact that there wasn't as much of an aesthetic history to compare them too.

However, it was William Cameron Menzies' film that first sprung to mind when we first visit Niander Wallace's palace / laboratory / archive. Like a futuristic reimagining of an ancient Egyptian tomb by way of pre-Columbian architecture. This was one rare time where I found myself genuinely in awe of the visuals I was being presented with, and really thankful that I saw this on a massive cinema screen.

I'm all about the story and the characters and the plot and the dialogue and I always have been. I make no apologies for this, even at times where I'm presented with a visual palette that deserves more than a cursory glance before I talk about the good acting and so on. One of the reasons I have so closely attached myself to Denis Villeneuve's films, however, is that he has given me visuals that matter to me.

I think of the overhead shot as Emily Blunt and the lads head to Juarez in Sicario and the tension that created, and the gravity reinventing first journey into the alien craft in Arrival as scenes that impressed on a purely shallow level but were connected to something far more meaningful in the context of the film and story as a whole.

What could be more daunting to anyone than that first visit to Jared Leto's place? Aside from the fact that Jared Leto is in it. As an audience, we are immediately fed a piece of visual information of the sheer force that it looks as though Ryan Gosling is going to be up against. It makes Eldon Tyrell's place look like a studio flat in Walsall in comparison. The resources and power that Leto has at his disposal seem almost impossible to overcome.

The evolution of big budget and high concept filmmaking will come through movies with the ambition and scope of Blade Runner 2049, and through filmmakers like Villeneuve. The use of technology to advance the artform as a whole and not just on a visual level. There is only so far you can go with CGI and visual invention alone. Stories and characters and thematic concepts are needed to make these advances mean something.

It would be arrogant even as a completely all paid-up fan of Villeneuve to suggest that we had to wait 35 years for him to come along and mature as a filmmaker before we could finally get the Blade Runner sequel that would prove to be a worthy successor to the original. But what this film needed was a director who had a completely clear-headed vision of what was needed here - uncluttered and undaunted by what had gone before and with the complete confidence to utilise those visuals and create a film that is neither beholden to its prequel nor prepared to be just another pretty nostalgia trip.

In some ways it was worrying to come into this film so sure that everything would not only be fine but that they would be significantly better than fine. Even more so as a natural sceptic about these sorts of things. But everything aligns here, in the process also creating a very strong argument for taking your time in making a sequel and the advantages that can be created from it. Even if it is just waiting for the right person to come along and make it.

The first relaxing sign, not that I need to be relaxed or reassured about this, comes early on when it's made plainly clear that Gosling is a replicant. Debate rages, and will still do so even after this, about Harrison Ford's Deckard from the original but Villeneuve has different questions of origin to ask here. Even so, Villeneuve really sticks his flag in the ground here long before he playfully presents us with his own vision of the future.

Futuristic automats! Strange hologramatic threesomes! The evolution of prejudice! Fuck no, this no nostalgia trip. This is a development and an evolution of a breathtaking original, with Villeneuve opening up a universe of possibilities for further films. I've always felt that comparisons to prequels are in many ways pointless, certainly when we talk about the comparative quality of two (or more) films. The most important topic of conversation when talking about the expansion of a series or a franchise should be where the stories and characters go now - and indeed if there was any point.

Villeneuve is developing a reputation for wrong-footing narratives and much of the substance of Blade Runner 2049 relies on that aspect. Yet to only focus on that, admittedly imaginative and thrillingly resolved, centre to his film would be to ignore so much more. The idea pressed alongside that core that reality can be just as false as artificiality is a fascinating one played out through Gosling's relationship with his hologram GF and a sex worker replicant, and one that I was pleased he spent so much time on.

The opening up of themes that could potentially be fed into future instalments is exciting, for sure, just as long as Ridley Scott doesn't try and regain directorial ownership of this franchise as he has disastrously done with the Alien one. But this is a minor side-issue at this stage to me. Come back to me in a couple of years time when and if something solid is in the works. For now, I want to delight in the later career phase of becoming a crotchety old bastard that Ford is in the grip of, both on screen and in real life.

His reintroduction, and to a lesser extent that of Gaff (in little more than a cameo, but a necessary one), was the biggest problem that Villeneuve faced here. How to tackle this without it feeling gimmicky or like just paying dues to the original. If Paul Feig's turbulent dip into the Ghostbusters franchise taught us anything, it's that paying deference to your elders can easily be your downfall.

I wouldn't go as far to say it's seamless but Villeneuve overrides that by not making it the moment that this whole film was building to. It's a moment, and a big one. But there are still questions to be answered beyond Gosling and Ford's showdown. It's a stop-off along the way to something more important and of wider significance to Scott and Villeneuve's films respectively.

The scope is huge. The ideas bigger. The execution better than I dared to let myself believe it would be. All good things come to those who wait - but all great things come to those who thought it would never happen. Fury Road, anyone?

And just by way of a side note, Robin Wright in this is actually an artist's impression of how Robin Wright will actually look in 2049, and an accurate one, I feel.

Steve G liked these reviews