Blade Runner 2049 Review: A hallucinogenic visual masterpiece

By Stephen Smit @stephensmit92

Since the 1982 release of the original Blade Runner, the world we live in has changed immensely. With the release of Blade Runner 2049, one thing hasn’t changed – Blade Runner remains the at the peak of cinematic experiences.

Visionary director Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious neo-noir mystery clocks in at a hefty 2 hours and 43 minutes, but Villeneuve makes sure every second counts. He delivers a visually mesmerising, slow-burning tale about a startling discovery that threatens to “break the world.”

Carrying the burden of decades of anticipation is Ryan Gosling, who portrays the new blade runner, LAPD Officer K. His beat, like Harrison Ford’s blade runner, involves hunting down and ‘retiring’ outdated replicants – bioengineered androids created by humans who are virtually identical to the masters they serve.

The first half of the film tracks Officer K as he investigates a mysterious discovery during a routine case, echoing Deckard’s investigation of renegade replicants in the original. Gosling is extraordinary, astutely delivering a restrained, measured performance. This allows the world of Blade Runner to take focus, while still depicting the burden of existence within it.

The burden is capably shared by an outstanding supporting cast led by Jared Leto as megalomaniacal industrialist Niander Wallace. He appears briefly, but is adeptly played as a shadowy, brooding sociopath.

The evergreen Harrison Ford is thrown back into the role of the now missing Rick Deckard – living in solitude as a result of regrets some thirty years past. While only appearing towards the tail end of the film, it showcases one of the actor’s most invested performances in years, delivering a welcome sense of humanity and emotion to the film. It’s one of Ford’s most complex and sentimentally significant roles to date.  

Unquestionably, the surprise package of the film is the breakout performance of Ana De Armas as K’s mesmerising virtual companion, Joi. The onscreen chemistry between K and Joi creates a platform for the film to ponder the film’s most thought provoking and profound themes – what means to be human, and long for a soul.

Even by today’s sci-fi standards, the world imagined by Ridley Scott remains as futuristic and cutting-edge today as it did in 1982. Villeneuve doesn’t seek to reinvent this world – rather, he concentrates the film’s focus on further exploring and refining the existential questions alluded to in the original film.

The most striking part of Blade Runner 2049 is its appearance. It’s one of the most visually decadent films ever to grace our screens. Master cinematographer Roger Deakins subtly evokes the original’s cyberpunk noir aesthetic, all while bring his own unique touch to the films visuals – awash with dense composition, strange blends of colours and entrancing lighting.

The dystopian world created by Deakins isn’t the type of place you’d want to live in, but it’s visually a thrill to visit. Each frame feels as if it is work of art – sometimes bordering on the surreal. From the bleak, hazy, greyed out landscapes of the protein farm, to the futuristic rain-soaked Los Angeles sky framed against the imposing buildings basking in the ethereal glow of neon shadows, to the apocalyptic, scorched orange radioactive zones of Las Vegas.

Director Denis Villeneuve has achieved what many thought was impossible. Blade Runner 2049 not only equals its predecessor, it surpasses it.

Villeneuve manages to balance the need to capture the essence of the original while expressing a new story in his own way. He’s created what’s sure to be considered a modern sci-fi classic in years to come.


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