FOR 35 years Blade Runner has been hailed as a cinematic gem, first as a cult classic and then by the mainstream.

With its visual wizardry and ethically ambiguous tale, Blade Runner is a hard act to follow. Especially after so long, any sequel was going to have to really justify its existence.

Blade Runner 2049 does.

In the masterful hands of director Denis Villeneuve, the dystopian story does more than mere justification, it cements itself as one of the best films of 2017 and Villeneuve as one of the most exciting directors of today.

Ridley Scott - who is a producer on this instalment - is well known for his ability to frame a beautiful image, if not necessarily for carrying off his narrative ambitions. Well, Villeneuve is next-level because Blade Runner 2049 is a breathtakingly gorgeous film to look at and that's also in no small part thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins.

It may come in at over two and a half hours but it's well-paced and manages to earn its long run time. There's not a single superfluous shot as you sit there, drinking it in, staring in awe at every magnificent visual and aural detail.

From a cascade of water spilling over a dam to the geometrical symmetry of a records room, or even in its use of light and shadows, there's not an inch on the screen that hasn't been meticulously set-up for maximum impact.

Of course, it can't match the 1982 version for its visual legacy or conceptual heights, and while original director Scott did borrow from the likes of Fritz Lang in crafting his industrial look, Villeneuve's aesthetic seem more like refinement, albeit a first-class one, than an inventive leap forward.

Ryan Gosling in a scene from the movie Blade Runner 2049.
Ryan Gosling in a scene from the movie Blade Runner 2049. Stephen Vaughan

The plot itself is fairly straightforward and that's probably to its benefit, allowing the visuals and Gosling's brilliantly restrained performance to shine. Side note, Gosling has really perfected purposeful slow walking - what a sight.

Villeneuve has requested that story detail be kept to an absolute bare minimum so audiences can experience it without the burden of foreknowledge. Set 30 years after the original, Gosling plays an LAPD detective, a Blade Runner, who digs up a secret that threatens to destroy the fragile social order; it also leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), last seen running off with Rachael.

The movie alludes to an ecological disaster between the events of the original film and this instalment, clear in the ever-present storms that cloud Los Angeles.

Ryan Gosling in a scene from Blade Runner 2049.
Ryan Gosling in a scene from Blade Runner 2049. Columbia Pictures

The colour palette is more grey and muted than the gritty ochre hues of the 1982 movie. But that doesn't mean it's stark. Even in white-boxed rooms, there's a grime that tarnishes every surface - a grime that reminds you that this is a dystopian future, not a utopian one.

As ever, the sequel is laden with symbolism but it's most concerned with the blurry line between what's real and what's not and who gets to decide what's real and what's not. Perhaps that's why Replicants are identified through their eyes - after all androids aren't supposed to have souls and you know how the old saying goes.

There are certainly characters that challenge any black-and-white reading of the dichotomy but you could also see it in throwaway details, like the film's use of Sinatra and Elvis ditties. The songs and holograms are mere facsimiles but the emotions they evoke are real.

Ryan Gosling in a scene from Blade Runner 2049.
Ryan Gosling in a scene from Blade Runner 2049. Supplied

You also can't help but get a kick out of a character ribbing Detective K for not liking "real girls", hoping it's an extratextual reference to Gosling's Lars and the Real Girl.

The least successful aspect of the film is a miscast Jared Leto waxing lyrical about creation, tediously veering into the pretentious philosophising of Scott's Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. But it's a small misstep in an otherwise impressive film.

Blade Runner 2049 is a more polished affair than its pioneering predecessor and it probably won't have the same lasting influence just by virtue of being a sequel. But it is truly a stunning cinematic experience.


Blade Runner 2049

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas.

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rating: MA 15+

Verdict: 4.5 stars

News Corp Australia

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