My favourite film of 2016 was Arrival. It was one of the most thought provoking, eye-opening and masterfully told stories I’d ever watched on screen. The director, Denis Villeneuve, has a way of unfolding a story that has not been matched by anyone like he has across his filmography. In Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original over 20 years ago, does exactly the same in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films every created.
First off, if you go into Blade Runner with the thoughts of a giant action epic, you’ll be disappointed for about 5 seconds and then realise how incredibly beautiful it is. Imagine California in 2049; a world where nature has been completely eradicated and replaced with a metropolis way of living. Natural light is almost completely absent, with neon signs and a dull glow giving way to your experience of the landscape. It’s so masterfully crafted that you can’t but imagine this is a real possibility a few decades down the line. Villeneuve’s approach to focusing on actual sets rather than relying on CGI pays off masterfully, with points of the film becoming both live and harsh for the action and for you in your seat. It is by far the most beautiful film-world that has been created, and using the less-is-more approach lets you be a part of the world, rather than overwhelmed.
The plot itself has remained almost secret, and that’s for the better. The film briefs you on the things you need to know with text right at the beginning, from there you’re own your own. It’s almost art-house in its style, with scenes that can go for minutes with no dialogue to really make you consider what’s going on and to think. It’s a thinking film, like Arrival before it. There seems to be one obvious answer and twists come to throw you off your train of thought. You end up right where Villeneuve wants you – considering the overarching questions posed by the film and gives you the options to consider your own conclusion.
Ryan Gosling plays Officer K, an agent tasked to ‘retire’ old replicants: bioengineered androids who are almost identical to real humans in every way. They have memories, they can get hurt, their emotions are present, but like the first film this is called into question. These replicants were manufactured as slaves; they’ve got other ideas and as the film begins to unravel, more and more questions pose themselves. Gosling is a perfect blend of both the humanoid vision and the subservient android counterpart, blending into a being that you’re both trying to work out and reflecting his own views with yours. Supporting cast Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Jared Leto fuel the realisation of 2049 and it’s harsh landscape, but the real standout is Harrison Ford.
People think they know what Ford is like, especially after his return to the Star Wars franchise in 2015. Han Solo is a joker, and in most press interviews Ford reflects this, so his appearance in the film readies you for the banter. It’s almost immediately thrown out of your mind and what follows is his best performance to date. Playing an aged Deckard from the original, he’s torn apart – surviving and hiding out in a destroyed Vegas. His interactions are unsettling, you feel throughout there’s not a complete being anymore. That’s also questioned through an age old question of whether Deckard was a replicant or not (Ridley Scott, the creator of the original, said he was but Villeneuve argued he doesn’t think so). This character reflects the film as a whole. There’s not one message or interpretation that comes at you as the answer, instead it’s left to the audience to be open and curious.
It’s not an action film, it’s not a straightforward mystery either. Instead, it’s a morality film and can entice a whole range of different feelings and conclusions. It’s an epic – coming in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, I’d suggest you go see it at the biggest and loudest screen, fully caught up on your sleep and snacks at the ready. Film has never looked so beautiful, and Villeneuve has once again pushed the boundary of creating blockbusters with substance.