Blade Runner 2049: an idiot’s review

I’ll put this out there from the off. Only a complete numpty would go to see Blade Runner 2049 with just a vague memory of the original, but that’s what I did. The reason being is because, shock horror, I’ve never been a die-hard fan of the original and wanted a fairly untainted experience of the sequel.

Now I imagine this statement may cause many a film fan to start sharpening up their unlimited cinema passes in an effort to stab me in a rage, but it is what it is. Some films just didn’t grab me growing up, so I didn’t revisit them. Despite this one being a cult classic, revered by many.

So I’m almost – almost – coming at this sequel as a newbie. I mean, I’m aware of Deckard and replicants and how the 1982 original was loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? But anyway, enough apologising, let’s talk 2049 and my impressions of the film.

So the story starts with words on screen, bringing us up to speed. We learn that the evil Tyrell corporation who built the original replicants is now no more, having been replaced by the super evil Wallace corporation, headed up by nefarious-bloke-with-a-God-complex, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto on fine, sinister form).

Also, Blade Runners still exist and are tasked with hunting down old models and ‘retiring’ them. So in a tense exchange in the opening scene we meet Officer K (Ryan Gosling), attempting to bring in Dave Bautista’s protein farmer; in a scene reminiscent of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. Everything looks gorgeous and stylish and the tension is palpable, up to the point it explodes into action.

Which is very much how the film goes. Slow burn, intense and loaded with meaning and symbolism. It is almost style over substance, but Villeneuve treads that path well, just about keeping the balance between the two.

So after his encounter with the farmer, Officer K finds a clue which leads him to believe replicants are changing in a way that could have a significant impact on society. This leads him to search for Deckard (Harrison Ford).

And, to geek out and digress for second, typing this got me thinking the film could’ve been called Blade Runner: The Search for Deckard, but I guess Star Trek already took that. Shame though, had a nice ring to it.

Back with 2049, other than the details above, the plot is best avoided for fear of spoilers.

But what I will say is that, returning to my point about being a bit of a newbie, this film did world build (for the uninitiated) extremely well. As director Denis Villeneuve – in an impressive balancing act – managed to stay true to the look and feel of Scott’s original, but also put his own stamp on it.

For example, we get a look at the world outside of L.A., all hazy red and yellow mists, complete with abandoned cityscapes and giant statues, which speak of ancient, long-lost civilisations. Post-apocalyptic and then some. Set design must have had a field day, in a good sense, for this all adds to Scott’s world in a way that feels credible.

Villeneuve also builds on other concepts touched on in the original, such as the debate around what it means to be human. Here, Officer K has a companion, Joi (Ana de Armas) a hologram.

And whilst she may have started as a basic, out of the box programme, she’s sentient and has grown and evolved to the point where you get the sense they’ve shared many moments together and have an intimate connection. Inasmuch as is allowed for Officer K, who is not supposed to show – or succumb to – signs of emotion or humanity, and is subject to regular ‘baseline tests’ by his employers.

Moreover, the more time we spend with Joi and K, the more we come to understand him through how he interacts with her. He keeps his emotions in check for the most part, but is conflicted. Desperately trying to do his job, yet his need to discover his origins and come to terms with his latent humanity gnaws at him, and is brought home every time he lets his guard down and allows himself a taste of humanity with Joi.

It’s deeply sad, in a way. K longs for a human connection and to discover his place in the world, but cannot find it. In some ways, there’s a lot of DNA this film shares with Spike Jonze’s Her. And perhaps shades of Lost in Translation.

Fans of the original will probably feel validated too, given how the film is held in such high regard, this sequel has done a commendable job of ‘not messing it all up’. Gosling is a great fit for the lead and it’s really grounds the film and story when Ford shows up too. Armas, a relative up-and-comer, also puts in a fine performance as Joi.

Come awards season it would be a travesty if Deakins didnt get an Oscar for the cinematography on this one – as the majority of shots are pieces of art in their own right. Villeneuve, too, could be in for an award or two, building on his critical acclaim following Arrival.

For me, I was less enamoured with the film than some people (being an idiot newbie and all that) and felt it dragged in places, largely due to its 2 hour 44 minute running time and methodical pace of storytelling. But I appreciated the performances, questions it raised, way it was shot and, crucially, the type of film it was trying to be.

In the age of superhero films and blockbusters and godawful comedy remakes, this sort of cinema is neccessary and vital, but not to everyone’s tastes. So whether you’re a fan of the original or not, I urge you to give it a try, and go in with an open mind, pay attention and let the experience wash over you.

(I said much the same of mother! recently, but the point stands for this too.)

 

 

Trailer Park: The Nice Guys, Jane Got A Gun

For the latest in my ‘trailer park’ series I wish to draw your attention to a couple of films that look like they’re going to kick ass and entertain in equal measure. Shane Black, last seen as writer-director of Iron Man 3 brings us a cop caper with an unlikely – but brilliant looking, at least in the trailer – pair of misfits. And Natalie Portman makes a welcome return after a few years of misfiring duds (bar the Thor films) in a rather sumptous looking Western.

The Nice Guys
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe might sound an unlikely duo on paper, but from the trailer their chemistry looks evident and this looks a genuinely funny prospect.

Jane Got A Gun
Natalie Portman is due a return to form I’d say, and here she might have it, in a Western which sees her team up with Joel Edgerton to thwart an evil Ewan McGregor.

The Guest: introducing the English Ryan Gosling

The latest Downton Abbey export to head to Hollywood is Dan Stevens. I don’t watch the show, but I hear his character is a nice guy who’s good at seducing the ladies.

dan

Now actors often like to break the mould when it comes to roles – to avoid being typecast and all that. So if people think you’re a nice guy, what do you do? Turn it on its head, subvert people’s expectations of you.

And so we have The Guest, a film which starts with Stevens’ soldier, David, introducing himself to a grieving mother, saying he served with her son in the army. Naturally she invites him in, keen to learn more. After all, he’s such a nice young man. He called her ma’am for a start.

maika

The Guest is an interesting sort of thriller, and a lot of it is down to Stevens’ performance. You need someone who can be warm and likeable then, in an instant, be utterly frightening in a stone-cold psycho way. In that respect Stevens does well.

It helps having piercing blue eyes of course (a must if you’re going to make it as a leading man in Hollywood), and he uses them to his advantage. He’s got good screen presence too and conveys a convincing sense of coiled menace – the sort you might expect a special forces soldier to have.

THE GUEST

So… If you have a scary guest in your house you’ll need someone to question why the hell he’s there (particularly when the rest of the family think he’s lovely). Step forward suspicious daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, looking and acting considerably more grown up since last year’s Labor Day).

Another interesting point to note with this film is that it keeps you guessing. You’re never entirely sure of David’s motives – at least for the first half of the movie – and he switches effortlessly between nice guy and bad guy. Part Jason Bourne, part Ryan Gosling a la Crazy Stupid Love.

?????????

The final act has teen slasher franchise Scream written all over it – or perhaps other references, given the ’80s-tinged soundtrack (there’s shades of Drive, Hanna and Alice In Wonderland in this film with the lurid, neon colours and fairytale horror feel). However it carries it off with panache and a loving nod to the time of year with the Halloween setting.

So if you’re looking for an engaging thriller with a few scares, a cool soundtrack and England’s answer to Ryan Gosling, look no further than The Guest. Incidentally, a good date movie too.