Thirty-five years after Ridley Scott rewrote the science fiction genre with his rainy, grainy, grimy vision of a dystopian future this monumental, contemplative, elegiac movie arrives as a perfect bookend, following an unexpected but ultimately satisfying story arc.
Director Denis Villeneuve, although perfectly respectful to the original film, pushes the dystopian feel even further by opening up the action, situating part of it in Scott’s already familiar rain-sodden, crumpled LA and one pivotal portion in the parched, almost Martian landscape of Las Vegas 2049.
Ryan Gosling (on superb, sombre form) plays K, a blade runner with the LAPD sent out to terminate renegade replicants by his lieutenant (Robin Wright). While on one such mission, he comes across a clue to a past mystery which sets him on the trail of Deckard (Harrison Ford in one of his best roles in years), the Blade Runner from the original film, now lost in the deserted ruins of Vegas. What K discovers there could change the course of human history.
Fans of the all-action, bust-em-up, aliens, weapons and starships variety of science fiction will find something at totally the other end of the spectrum in this film. Yes, these are one or two fights and shoot-outs, but this is much more cerebral fare, brooding on mortality, the unreliability of memory and the nature of what it means to be human and the ethics of using bio-engineered and AI virtual beings as slave labour – for can they not experience emotions too?
These are big themes wrapped up in some of the most beautiful, poignant visuals ever to grace the big screen. Villeneuve has created a world where water – too much of it and the lack of it, in all its forms (liquid, snow and ice, steam) – holds sway over life and death and where humanity’s grip on existence is tenuous indeed. But survive it does because the key message in the movie is that life, either natural or created in a lab, will fight to endure no matter the odds against it.
In the final scenes of the film, the camera lingers on first Ford’s face as he turns to the future and then Gosling’s as he reviews the past and the whole history of humanity seems to be written in their eyes. This is a slow burn of a film (sometimes maybe even too slow) but it is beautifully acted, beautifully executed and awesome to behold. A classic in the making.