Both a continuation and revival of Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner, the equally ambitious Blade Runner 2049 follows a new protagonist played by Ryan Gosling as his latest mission brings him in contact with dangerous figures and a grizzled Harrison Ford reprising his iconic role from the original. Even with a strong plot and interesting characters, it is the atmosphere that is most important to recapture the magic of this unique science fiction world and director Denis Villeneuve does this perfectly; cold yet beautiful, the city drips with colour and oozes neon whilst the outer lands glows with a radioactive orange – all a product of the masterful cinematography by Roger Deakins.
Using Gosling’s ‘K’ as the focal point, Blade Runner 2049 tells its story through him and in many ways is a very contained tale within a wider narrative. Whilst bigger and more important events are happening around him, Gosling’s role as just another cog in the machine allows a more character-driven plot that explores everyday life in this futuristic but bleak world; scenes that show him traversing, using technology and dealing with his hologram girlfriend Joi are in many ways more compelling than the ones actually connected to the main thread of the story. Gosling carries the film on his shoulders with a brilliantly subdued performance but is supported by an equally strong Harrison Ford giving more effort than he has in a long time; while his role is not as large as the marketing would have you believe, Ford and Villeneuve nonetheless respect the legacy of Rick Deckard as an important character in science fiction. With a long runtime and slow pace, we are allowed to fully dive into this cinematic world, exploring the artificial beauty of the city and moral complexities of its residents as tensions gradually rise between humans and the bioengineered replicants. Villeneuve never resolves these grander issues that would make for a bigger action blockbuster, using his art film origins and keeping the action to a minimum; it is still extremely powerful and well-choreographed but this power comes from the investment in the characters rather than sheer spectacle.
Blade Runner 2049 is a thrilling sequel that in some ways surpasses even the might of the original. One of the most beautifully designed films I have seen, Director Denis Villeneuve perfectly balances the best qualities of a mainstream action blockbuster and an aesthetically pleasing arthouse film to create a modern masterpiece.