Blade Runner 2049

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green


If you were to put together a list of the five most influential science-fiction films of all time, there would not even be a question about including Blade Runner. I’m hard pressed to think of any sci-fi movie from the last three decades that doesn’t owe some kind of debt to Ridley Scott’s dystopian masterpiece. It is the film that redefined the genre, introducing a groundbreaking tone and visual style oft-replicated but never surpassed and exploring existential themes with immense sophistication and profundity. Blade Runner has had thirty-five years to secure its position as a landmark in the history of cinema and it’s still too early to tell whether the sequel will prove to be as monumental. What is clear however is that Blade Runner 2049 is not a pale imitation or a cheap cash grab; it’s the real thing. This is nothing less than a visually stunning picture that takes the same ideas about humanity, reality, and existence, and expands on them thoughtfully, compellingly, and beautifully.

There are details about the plot that I shouldn’t and won’t share here because the reveals are too good to spoil for the viewer. What I can tell you is that the movie takes place in Los Angeles in 2049. The Tyrell Corporation has gone bankrupt since the events of the first film and Replicants are now manufactured by the Wallace Corporation, led by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Our protagonist is a Blade Runner called K (Ryan Gosling). He reports to Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) of the LAPD and lives in a small, plain apartment with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), also a product of the Wallace Corporation. His job is to hunt down and ‘retire’ rogue Replicants, which we see him do in the opening scene with Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), a rogue Replicant just trying to live a peaceful life as a farmer. It is during this confrontation that he makes a discovery which will launch a mystery that leads him to question everything he knows about himself and the world around him.

To call this film a visual masterpiece is an understatement. Villeneuve, working with frequent collaborator and thirteen-time Academy Award nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, has constructed a banquet for the eyes. Together they have recreated Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick’s futuristic world with its polluted skyline, oppressive buildings, and torrents of rain and have used it all to create countless images of supreme beauty and poetry. You could put this film on mute and still enjoy it for the visual splendour that it is, but the ingenuity of the images is how they serve the story, characters, and themes at every turn. Images like K arriving at a new location shrouded by sand and dust and stepping tentatively into the hazy distance, uncertain of what he will find there. Images like our first glimpse of the blind Wallace and his striking white irises, a man who cannot see but who has vision. Images like a giant hologram approaching K and standing before him, a visual reminder of the cost he has had to pay to get to the truth. It is the two artists’ meticulous attention to detail and their profound understanding of the story and its ideas that enable this film to rise far beyond being an empty visual spectacle.

In Blade Runner Harrison Ford delivered what many (including myself) consider to be his greatest performance. Although he does indeed return and is on top form, it is Ryan Gosling who makes this film. Here he plays a man struggling with his own humanity, not unlike Deckard but not exactly like him either. Gosling plays the character similarly to when he did Drive, subdued, stoic, and handsome on the outside but anxious, confused, and vulnerable within. He plays both sides remarkably well and is able to be emotional without being melodramatic, just like Ford thirty-five years before. The other standouts were two actresses whom I had not encountered before: Ana de Armas, who plays K’s artificial sweetheart so affectionately that your heart breaks at the thought of them being unable to consummate their love, and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a Replicant enforcer, which she plays with ice-cold steeliness.

The story itself unfolds like a noir mystery, following our protagonist along with every step and taking its time with each development and reveal. With all the pressure and expectation surrounding this film, Villeneuve is to be applauded for having enough confidence in his story, his ability to tell it, and the audience’s ability to follow it, that he never feels compelled to rush things along. He adopts a slow but natural pace and allows events to progress in their own time, never once resorting to cheap, attention-grabbing tricks or throwing in action for the sake of action. The film measures at 163 minutes and I will confess that I did look at my watch once as the film entered the third act, but did so not out of boredom but rather out of a realisation that it had taken me a full two hours to notice the passage of time. For some the plot will drag, and that’s understandable, but the story is so fascinating and the visuals are so spectacular that I suspect the film’s runtime will become less of an issue with repeat viewings.

There is so much more to say and dissect, but first one must watch the film. Blade Runner 2049 is at its heart a mystery and its broader themes cannot be discussed without some reference to what actually happens. I can say that, like the first film, it is as much a mystery in a philosophical sense as it is in a detective sense and so many of the questions it raises are not there to be answered but to be contemplated. Even the mystery surrounding the nature of Deckard’s character is never given a clear answer; it is one that the film sustains, explores, expands upon, and adds layers to, and in the end it is up to the viewer to decide how to interpret it. This is what makes the film such a worthy successor to Blade Runner. It seeks not to solve its mysteries, but to expand on them. It seeks not to replace or improve on Scott’s film, but rather to build on its legacy and continue what it started. It captures the very soul of the sci-fi classic and lives up to its example without mimicking it, giving us two companion pieces that complement and enrich each other.

★★★★★

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Director: J.J. Abrams

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt


This is the film I’ve been waiting all year to see. Honestly, I was more excited about this film than I was about Christmas. Like most Star Wars fans I absolutely love the original films and despise the prequel trilogy. I cannot think of any other series of films that has accomplished what the original trilogy did. Not only did they create three incredible films complete with timeless characters, an epic story and groundbreaking visual effects, they created an entire living, breathing universe. Through ingenious storytelling, astonishing creativity and amazing imagination the Star Wars films transported viewers to another world and took on a life of their own. The cultural impact Star Wars has had and its influence on cinema as we know it is astronomical. It is no small task for any film to live up to that kind of legacy and, after an entire trilogy of films that threatened to destroy it, many people including myself were hopeful yet cautious about this film. While the adverts showed much promise I didn’t want Star Wars to let me down again. Thankfully whatever reservations I had were relieved as soon as I saw The Force Awakens.

Picking up thirty years after The Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing and the Galaxy is now in the midst of a civil war between the First Order and the Resistance. When the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) comes across BB-8, a droid holding the secrets to Luke’s whereabouts, it falls onto her and Finn (John Boyega), a rogue stormtrooper, to deliver BB-8 to the Resistance. Along the way they encounter Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) who agree to help them in their quest. Meanwhile a search for the droid is underway led by the dark Jedi Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) of the First Order. Together they command the Starkiller Base, a great weapon of planetary destruction that threatens to destroy the New Republic. As Rey and Finn are drawn further into this conflict they both must decide who they truly are and whether this is a cause they are willing to fight for.

The biggest criticism I’ve heard about this film is that the story is essentially a retread of A New Hope and so I thought I’d start by addressing it. While I do agree that the film borrows heavily not only from Episode IV but from all three films, I wasn’t as bothered by it as other people were. Now, if there is one positive thing to be said about the prequel trilogy it is that Lucas did introduce a lot of original and creative ideas that showed promise. Those ideas however were let down by his failings as a writer and director. Since the prequels caused so much anger and hate amongst Star Wars fans (insert joke about path to the Dark Side here), I think it does make some sense for this film to try and relieve that resentment by bringing fans back to the original trilogy. While I certainly would have liked a more original story with some newer ideas, my biggest concern going into this film was whether or not it would actually be a good Star Wars film. If showing everyone that they could make a good Star Wars film meant recycling plot elements from the original trilogy, then I can live with that. I’m very happy with the result and am now optimistic about the future of this franchise.

Once it gets started the film makes the clever decision not to show us any of the familiar characters from the original trilogy until we’re a good half hour into the movie. This allows the audience the opportunity to get to know the new characters a bit before they’re allowed to welcome back Han and Chewie and all the others. I am very thankful that this film opted for this route because it was the new characters who ended up selling this film for me. Rey and Finn are both fun and interesting characters and I enjoyed following their journey every step of the way. I also enjoyed Kylo Ren who I thought provided Star Wars with a unique and fascinating villain. While I don’t think the criticism about Rey being a Mary Sue is necessarily without merit, I also don’t think it necessarily makes her a bad character. While it’s true that she is unusually resourceful and does succeed at just about every task she sets out to do, I think the struggle is still there. I felt like there was a lot of effort and investment behind her actions which is why none of her victories felt unearned to me. I was very much invested in her journey and thought that she was a terrific protagonist for the film.

With that in mind the inclusion of the old faces of Star Wars was very welcome indeed. I thought the film handled them in just the right way by employing them when they were needed to serve the story without ever making them the central focus. Harrison Ford is particularly good as an old Han Solo who has remained a scoundrel at heart but has been noticeably wearied by the events that followed Return of the Jedi. Carrie Fisher has also returned as Leia who is now the leader of the Resistance. Fisher falls naturally into her new role as a general and is still able to convey the same resolve and spirit that Leia possessed in the original films. Despite the amount of time that has gone by I had absolutely no problem believing that these were the same characters that they played all those years ago.

Is this film perfect? No. Does it rely too heavily on plot elements from the original trilogy? Probably. Is it the best Star Wars film ever made? Absolutely not. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some issues with this film. However at the end of the day they don’t really amount to much more than nit-picks. The Force Awakens is a fun, exciting and wondrous space adventure that boasts of great characters, thrilling action and stunning visuals. The film’s decision to utilise real sets and practical effects pays off beautifully and allows for an engrossing and absorbing spectacle. Whatever issues I may have with it, The Force Awakens looks and feels like a Star Wars film and is one of the best viewing experiences that I’ve had all year. It has captured the magic of the original trilogy and I look forward to seeing where this series goes next.

★★★★★