Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Blade Runner 2049

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, and Jared Leto 

Director: Denis Villeneuve

163 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.40:1
Sony 4K Ultra HD 

Rating: 9/10
Review by Steven Hampton  

How does a critic begin to review this movie, which is perhaps the most long awaited and eagerly anticipated sequel of all time? The Blade Runner prologues, three short films that bridge a narrative gap of 30 years between the original masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049, is probably the best place to start.

Animated short, 2022: Black Out (15 minutes), reveals an info-dump about intermediate Nexus 8 versions of replicants versus human supremacists, until terrorism by EMP wrecks the Tyrell corporation’s future prospects. This includes Edward James Olmos as the voice of Gaff. The next short of a pair directed by Ridley Scott’s son Luke is 2036: Nexus Dawn (six minutes) offering an introduction for the main event’s visionary villain Wallace (Jared Leto), while 2048: Nowhere To Run (six minutes) most accurately mimics the vivid visual styling of Blade Runner, and delivers a telling prelude for runaway rogue replicant Sapper (Dave Bautista, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Spectre, Bushwick).

As expected, in designs and tones, the ghosts of early 1980s SF, and the original movie’s 2019 setting, haunt this conspiracy crime drama with synth zings in echoes of sound, wet reflections in patterns of light on interior walls mirroring persistent rainfall, origami sheep - courtesy of symbolism wrangler Gaff, and the miracle of birth from “cells interlinked”. A new blade runner KD6-3.7 (Ryan Gosling) frees his digital girlfriend Joi from the shackles of a domestic overhead projector to appear on an urban roof-top, thanks to an emanator gadget. This new viewpoint about ‘being’ and seeing makes fuzzy reference to a romantic scene in Daredevil (2003), where the blind hero first precisely ‘visualises’ his girlfriend as a perceptual image in the rain. The invisibility of a media broadcast’s turned upside-down via holographic tech. It’s also a wry commentary on the motto that “information wants to be free”.

This re-branding of 21st century futurism emerges from systems overdrawn at the official PKD memory-bank. The sequel movie’s genre riffs of sci-fi novelty in this extreme case of  ecological dystopia extrapolate more from Blade Runner’s alternative Los Angeles of 2019 than from Californian social or political concerns or the actual environmental conditions in today’s reality. And so, this parallel world’s post-cyberpunk milieu permits indulgences as striking in their own imaginary cultural ways, as the neo-noir borrowings of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece.   

Clearly a Pinocchio cypher, K’s dreams of a relationship are just as hollow as his favourite hologram, but his fantasy eventually becomes an electric ghost far beyond the machinery of Joi. “Mere data makes a man. A and C and T and G. The alphabet of you. All from four symbols. I am only two: 1 and 0.” The Wallace corporation took over replicant production after Tyrell’s business model collapsed and company enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) pursues K into conquering his fears of death and humanity. Tech noir intrigue unfolds at a stately pace, wrapped around memory implants with authentic episodes of childhood, from bullying to birthday cake. At the orphanage, where kids labour for commercial gain, K finds evidence that his faked  boyhood might be real, shattering his baseline knowledge of a soul-free selfdom. “What’s it like to hold the hand of someone you love?” 

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s return to SF, after Arrival (2016), delivers its urban scenes of violence with some very loud music to crank up the tensions and chills of psychological disturbance. Often lost in the darkness, this picture’s most vividly colourful sequences are simulations - virtual or augmented realties. Actuality is dreadfully decayed like morality in dystopia, or physically dead, and L.A. pleasure model Mariette (Mackenzie Davis, looking like a sister of Daryl Hannah’s Pris) admits that she has “never seen a tree before.”      

The biggest problem with this sequel is that its SF elements are largely beholden to many of the late-1980s and 1990s movies that were, blatantly, or covertly, influenced by Blade Runner. In addition, a surrogate romance in a qualifying ‘threesome’ is copied from Spike Jonze’s oddly tragicomic Her (2013). The faster pace of Rupert Sanders’ live-action Ghost In The Shell (2017) almost stands still in marked contrast to the leisurely style chosen by Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049. However, genre product satisfaction is almost guaranteed!

The bonus disc has four featurettes: To Be Human, on casting the BR sequel, provides “a special opportunity” for Ryan Gosling, a charismatic Robin Wright, the hulking but aged-by-make-up Dave Bautista, Jared Leto’s blind genius hipster villainy, Cuban actress Ana de Armas, “the best angel” Sylvia Hoeks, Swiss starlet Carla Juri, and others concerned. Fights Of The Future looks at this movie’s premier action sequences. Two Become One focuses upon the love scene. Dressing The Skin reveals the fashion and costume designs. The total running-time for all these extras is 34 minutes.

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