I’m totally geeking out over “Blade Runner 2049,” one of those ‘you either love it or hate it’ science fiction films. I love art, I love movies, and I consider films an important form of aesthetic visual expression, and this one features the most disturbingly gorgeous, darkly lush, effective dystopian cinematography since 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It’s filled with an unparalleled artistry and is among one of the best looking movies ever to come out of Hollywood.
The story takes place thirty years after the events of the first film, with new blade runner and LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) hunting rogue replicants. Eventually he unearths a secret that leads him on a quest to find Deckard (Harrison Ford), in what becomes a gradual meditation on the loss of our humanity. The film’s nearly three hour run time is undeniably long for most audiences but it never feels sluggish or bloated. The story takes its time and does what a good sequel should: it builds upon the original story. This marks a satisfying return for fans of Ridley Scott’s landmark 1982 film, yet the new plot will not alienate newcomers.
Before I get into the visuals (which indisputably form the film’s overall strength), it’s important to recognize the hallucinatory and airy electronic-tinged original score from collaborators Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, the flawless special effects and costumes, the steady and confident hand of uber talented director Denis Villeneuve, and the awards-worthy performances from both Ford and Gosling (which are among the very best of each man’s career). Gosling in particular is at the top of his game, bringing a painful nuance to a tortured, brooding, and lonely soul. He’s been served well by portraying quietly brutalized characters like this (see “Drive” and “Only God Forgives”), and his performance here is a true knockout.
Although the film hits a couple of speed bumps towards the end by relying on some clichéd film crutches like a seemingly endless fist fight and a classic “damsel in distress” scenario with a man handcuffed in dangerously fast rising water, the eye-popping visual splendor will take your breath away. I actually had to stop myself from audibly gasping at this complex, fully realized vision of the future.
First, if cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner don’t sweep this year’s awards season for their magnificent work on this film, then there is no justice in Hollywood. The duo orchestrate scene after scene of haunting, dazzling images that are instantly iconic, from a neon wasteland to a dystopian future filled with rainy, murky skies. It’s first-rate intellectual and artistic sci-fi noir and even if you know nothing about the craft of cinematography, you’ll no doubt appreciate the handsome lighting, ingenious framing, and impeccable effects. ‘Astonishing’ is the most appropriate descriptor that immediately comes to mind.
This is high art, pure and simple, from an accomplished group of artists who are working at the top of their game. This one’s a real beauty and should be required viewing for everyone who has a passion for the language of cinema.