Denis Villeneuve is a gift that just keeps giving. In the last decade, especially the last 5 years, he has established himself as one of the most acclaimed & versatile filmmakers working in the industry today and has built up an utterly impressive résumé that’s jam-packed with quality works. Making the most of every single opportunity that has knocked on his door, he has tackled many different genres throughout his career and has managed to turn every single one of them into a critical success. And even though every subsequent work of his seems different from the one preceding it, they all scream Villeneuve right down to the bone.
After introducing himself on the global stage with the emotionally devastating drama Incendies in 2010, Villeneuve made his breakthrough in Hollywood with a brilliantly crafted maze known as Prisoners in 2013, and has been in top-notch form ever since. Next up was the intricately structured arthouse mystery Enemy, followed by the taut & tense Sicario, and just last year he delivered one of the finest sci-fi films of the decade with Arrival. Each film of his has garnered him new admirers and over the years, he’s amassed a highly devoted fan following. But that number gets a serious boost this year, for Villeneuve has pulled off what many considered to be an impossible task.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was a box-office failure at its time of release but it enjoys a cult following today like no other film. Its influence & reputation has grown considerably over the years and now, it’s widely acknowledged as one of the greatest works of science-fiction, and is still the leading example of neo-noir cinema. 35 years later, in a time when all the classics are being exhumed with the intention of turning them into franchises, be it with a sequel, prequel, remake or reboot, even the idea of following into the very footsteps of Scott’s breathtaking reimagining of the future is intimidating. But not only does Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 live up to those towering expectations but actually exceed it in many aspects.
Taking place 30 years after the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 presents a world where replicants have been integrated into the society but as servants & slaves. This new story concerns a replicant who works for the LAPD as a “blade runner” and is tasked with retiring those that have gone rogue. A chain of events are set into motion when he unearths a long-buried secret that could stain the seemingly stable co-existence between humans & replicants and may result in an all-out war. Ordered by his superior to destroy the evidence in order to prevent an uprising, he sets off on a quest to find the key to the puzzle and ends up face-to-face with a former LAPD blade runner who’s been missing for decades.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 is an immaculately designed sequel that takes ideas & inspirations from its predecessor to carve its own story but never steers so far away that it becomes unfamiliar & alien. Villeneuve has absolutely nailed the brief when it comes to recreating the dystopian setting, for it is very much in balance with the tone & feel of Blade Runner, but he heads one further in the narrative section. The story in this follow-up instalment is far more engaging & compelling when compared to the original, and all the twists n turns are cleverly placed & properly executed. It’s a fascinating mix of old & new that pays homage to the original, effectively builds upon the universe it created, and is sturdy enough to stand on its own.
Coming to the technical department, the set pieces in Blade Runner 2049 may not be as groundbreaking as they were in Ridley Scott’s feature but they are visually spellbinding to say the least. Production design team uses the dystopian setting of the first film as its bedrock and engineers an evolved version upon it in a way that not only suits its futuristic timeline but also looks eerily familiar & affiliated to the world the viewers witnessed back in 1982. Cinematography is a highlight in itself, for Roger Deakins leaves no stone unturned to revive the Blade Runner experience, and turns every frame into a work of jaw-dropping photography. Be it his trademark use of silhouettes or vivid application of hues or precise lighting or hovering shadows, it’s all absolutely faultless.
Bringing the 2049 Los Angeles to cinematic life are its breathtaking use of visual effects which, while not as revolutionary as its predecessor’s special effects, stay in close proximity with the first film’s retrofitted future and its dark, desolate & rain-soaked surroundings. CGI is extensively applied in nearly every frame but each pixel is refined to the minutest of details, which in turn uplift the depth & texture of those images by quite an extent. Its 163 minutes runtime is allowed to unfold at a gradual pace, and while it may trouble a few impatient viewers, it’s difficult to point out any moment that seems irrelevant to the plot. And last but not the least is its impeccable sound design that works in near-perfect harmony with the synthesised score, and these soundscapes impart a very atmospheric & haunting vibe to the overall experience.
Coming to the performances, Blade Runner 2049 packs an interesting ensemble in Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi & Jared Leto, and all of them perform their part sensibly. Gosling is in as K, a blade runner whose latest discovery sets this plot into motion, and delivers a deftly measured input. Ford reprises his role of Deckard and effortlessly steals the show with an intense but also charismatic performance. Armas plays Joi, an artificial intelligence, and offers fine support to our protagonist. Hoeks’ stone cold rendition of her replicant character makes her contribution stand out. Davis, Bautista & Abdi make brilliant use of their limited screen time. Lastly, Leto is in as the CEO of the replicant manufacturer Wallace Corporation. In short, the entire cast delivers in their respective roles and leave nothing to complain about.
On an overall scale, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy follow-up to Blade Runner and for me at least, it’s an improvement over Scott’s movie, especially in the way it tackles its story & handles its existential themes. An intricately layered narrative puzzle that captivates & confounds in equal doses but brings it all together in the end, Villeneuve’s latest is nothing short of a filmmaking achievement and is another quality addition to his already stellar filmography. Ingeniously directed, smartly scripted, gorgeously photographed, methodically edited, steadily paced, eerily scored & outstandingly performed, it’s one big-budget spectacle that takes blockbuster storytelling into the realm of arthouse cinema, and is truly worth the 35 years wait. A calm, controlled & confident effort from an auteur at the apex of his creative talents, Blade Runner 2049 is everything that a Blade Runner sequel is supposed to be, and then some. One of the finest films of 2017, this unnervingly quiet, deeply introspective & thoroughly mesmerising sci-fi masterpiece comes strongly recommended.