Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

As a spectacle, the sequel to Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, which was based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is vast and achingly beautiful. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, marshalling an army of pixel wranglers and visual effects mavens, have conjured astounding set pieces: a flying car falling across a mathematically precise patchwork of solar farms; a shipbreaking yard littered with the dissected remains of huge colony ships; a ruined Las Vegas half-buried in sand, recalling J.G. Ballard's Hello America, and like that novel populated by holograms of icons from the 1950s and 1960s; and the brutalist skyline of future Los Angeles, a post-capitalist dystopia whose neon-lit clash of street cultures is dwarfed by the luminous giants of animate ads.

All of this, explored by Villeneuve's slow-moving camera, is a mindblowingly gorgeous homage to and an expansion of the future visions of its predecessor, and like its predecessor depicts a lived-in, depleted future crammed with telling details. The story it contains is, though, very much smaller, and spun out over almost three hours. Bladerunner K. (Ryan Gosling), a replicant that hunts down troublesome older models, discovers a long-buried secret that threatens to destroy the uneasy truce between replicants and the residual population of humans left behind when almost everyone else decamped for the colony worlds. Following a thin thread of plot, K. uncovers disturbing parallels with his implanted memories, and clues that point him towards a confrontation with former bladerunner Rick Deckard and entangle him with the plans of meglomaniac technocrat Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, the weakest link in the film).

Problem is, the story moves at a glacial pace through a sequence of stylised set pieces like kabuki theatre and a handful of effectively choreographed action sequences; Wallace's replicant sidekick (Sylvia Hoeks), is the only character that gives the narrative any propulsive kick. Questions of about truth, reality and authenticity are raised, but not explored in any depth. And as in Arrival, Villeneuve too often tries to convey profundity with ponderous brooding, while the linear narrative fails to invoke or resolve much of the opaque ambiguity of the original, or to escape the gravity well of its own back story. Yet it is lovely, and contains true moments of cinematic sense of wonder, especially when spectacle and throbbing soundtrack synchronise. Turn off your mind, and watch it on the biggest screen you can find.
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