Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017)

In terms of blockbusters from this year, this one really takes the cake, doesn’t it? One can picture Villeneuve paring his nails while overseeing this endeavour, exuding an air of confident control as the vision of Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott lands in his capable hands. He could have sorely messed it up. That’s always a real possibility when dealing with such iconic material. Fortunately, he delivers a cybernetic epic with a finely-hewn intellectual backbone, immaculately envisioned by the inimitable Roger Deakins and acted by a high-caliber international cast. Everything has worked in his favour here, and his burgeoning artistry has now grown into something truly electric.

This is almost three hours, and I was never bored. The world-building here is so intricate, so propulsive. It is almost entirely introspective, the film at times seeming to bob and undulate like an ice floe at sea. 2049 is mucky, groggy, dingy; everything is deadened by simulacra. Deakins smooths off the edges of things by design, wanting to replicate that state of unnatural perfection that feels like a shell of itself. As a result, the atmosphere is cold and hard like a fine-cut diamond, alienating because the spark of a soul has long since dwindled into a flicker. The neon and radiation has hidden it away. The film is in search of true, unqualified life. What does such a thing mean when, everywhere you turn, you meet the synthetic, the uncanny, the hologrammed? Where is truth in an environment speckled with the shellacking of technocracy? Is there a possibility for the Unreal to become Real?

In and out weaves the film, journeying in the figure of K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant whose destiny undergoes several metamorphoses. The film itself does, too, and each new revelation is more satisfying than the last. I’m not going to give anything away, since these twists work so well in the moment. Needless to say, Gosling’s implacable impassivity has never been put to finer use, and somehow the sternest performance of the year is also one of the best. He’s much better off doing what he does here than, say, impressing women with his knowledge of jazz. Ahem.

The cast in general is wonderful, most from different parts of the world, yet all contributing their own vital talents. I was prepared to wag my finger at a perceived misuse of the female cast, but I thought they kicked ass in this world that was always conceived (if I’m not mistaken) as virulently misogynistic. I mean, that’s a key factor in its being a dystopia, right? Yet many of the female characters possess interesting arcs and personalities to counteract that, and the most important character of them all ends up being a woman. I mean, if the film needed more of something, it was a greater number of POCs. I do agree that this vision of the future is too white.

I may need to watch this again to see if it holds up, and if it could legitimately be seen as one of the best science fiction films in recent years. I do think it’s up there. I also, silly me, need to see the original film. I’m thankful to Villeneuve, Hampton Fancher and Michael Green for not making the sequel entirely beholden to its predecessor, and I was actually surprised at how easy it was to follow the plot without any background knowledge. However, I figure that those who have a history with the original will rank this far more highly than those who don’t (like me). That’s OK, though! I really dug this, and the fact that something so intelligent and taciturn can still be made in an age that favours garish special effects and formulaic plotting is very reassuring.

Please, Hollywood producers not named Weinstein: invest in more films like this. We could have a new renaissance if you put your money to good use.