Blade Runner 2049 – Spoiler free review

Blade Runner 2049 review

Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Certificate 15

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

How do you follow one of the biggest cult films of all time? When tackling a sequel to Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece about an android detector hunting near perfect replicants, the answer was leave well alone. The story had been told. The box office returns had been hugely disappointing, but over the years it made its money back via re-releases and assorted cuts.

Then, around five years ago, the rights were up for grabs, and it looked like Ridley would direct. But while he was busy with Alien Covenant, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (maker of stunning trio Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival) was wisely hired to tell the next chapter in the saga of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

Ryan Gosling is superb as Officer K, a Blade Runner retiring (killing) more replicants while reporting to Robin Wright’s police chief Lieutenant Joshi. But it’s not long before he’s investigating a riddle wrapped in an enigma after an opening showdown with Dave Bautista’s formidable antagonist.

That’s the thing with this movie. It’s so full of spoilers that I daren’t reveal too much about anyone or anything for fear of giving the game away.

So as K embarks on his mission, blind replicant creator Wallace (Jared Leto) makes his moves like expert chess player Tyrell from film one (who he’s clearly modelled on).

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

The rest of the cast is excellent, from Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks, to Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James and Bautista. Nobody gives a bad performance and master lensman Roger Deakins creates some of the most beautiful images you’ll see this decade.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

Unlike The Dark Tower, which shed a bright spotlight on its nods to Stephen King’s other work, references to the original Blade Runner and author Philip K Dick are far more subtle. A pot boiling on a stove might be just that, as could a wasp on a hand, or they could be integral references to Deckard’s interrogation of Rachael in the original.

The audio references are also a treat for obsessives like me. A familiar electronic hum here, a nostalgic whir there. And then there’s the soundtrack. Topping Vangelis’s masterful original score was futile, but Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s booming chords and notes offer a flavour of its predecessor without them sounding like a tribute band.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

There are at least two great cameos, one created with CGI which slips into the realms of uncanny valley.

There are times when the whole thing reminds me of Tron Legacy, another relatively recent sequel to a cult eighties classic. The difference here is a great story which twists and turns brilliantly. An obvious development early on becomes more complex as things develop. Thankfully I feel one step behind the storytellers instead of 10 steps ahead.

And the finale when it arrives after two and a half hours is near perfect. Or it would have been if the cinemaoger on our row hadn’t ruined the moment with his lit up phone. To be fair he had popped down to tell the staff to turn the lights off after five minutes of a semi-ruined intro, and the couple behind me who decided to talk through the next 10 minutes were polite enough to shut up for the rest of the movie once I asked them.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

This won’t be for all tastes. The movie really takes its time, the polar opposite of popcorn tentpole movies which aim for the lowest common denominator. Those vistas are superb, with huge electronic billboards (including references to a French car company and the long defunct Pan Am).

Like the original, the mood is also spot on. It has a smoky, late night jazz feel which sets up proposed sequels without feeling contrived. The second act could have been tighter, but that ending, like the original, is a terrific, poetic closing chapter to a bigger story. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 35 years to see it.


My vlog review


La La Land Review

Directed by Damien Chazelle

Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend

When I get an email telling me the new film from Damien Chazelle is being screened a few days before release, I book two tickets on the spot for La La Land. 

His last movie was the breathtaking Whiplash a couple of years ago, the best film about drumming ever made. That project landed JK Simmons a well deserved Oscar, and featured a knockout turn from Miles Teller. 

Such acclaim meant getting this follow-up off the ground was a lot easier. Yes, Chazelle gets Simmons back in a minor but memorable role, but the key reason I’m so excited is Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Their chemistry in Crazy, Stupid, Love a few years ago was terrific. And the thought of them singing and dancing their way through a colour-saturated love letter to classic musicals was too good to resist. 

Some critics have compared it to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but never having seen it, I just call it an old fashioned, feelgood, bittersweet joy from start to finish. 

The open number set in a traffic jam sets things up beautifully. Like classic Buffy episode Once More With Feeling, people burst into song and start hoofing at the drop of a hat. It never feels forced, just natural, like singing along to your favourite song while doing the washing up. 

I will confess I am in love with Ms Stone, the actress who stole my heart in Easy A, while few actors are as cool as Gosling. They are essentially fire and ice, her flame-haired actress Mia trying to melt the heart of his glacially charming jazz-loving pianist, Sebastian. 

They are not the best singers or dancers in the world but that naturalism is half the joy. 

Every time the couple are on screen, I’m willing them to get together and live happily ever after. 

The movie is also reminiscent of that knockout scene in (500) Days of Summer, the chronologically challenged romantic comedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in which he dances down the high street with an army of delighted followers, having fallen in love. 

Good support comes from John Legend as Sebastian’s associate, while an audition scene in which Mia sings a story will leave you slack of jaw. 

A special nod must also go the photography, which is a feast for the eyes. All primary colours, and retina-searing beauty, while the editing is often a breathless joy. 

I don’t realise that while watching the preview, LLL is about to grab a record breaking arm-full of Golden Globes across the Pond. All I know is it makes my heart soar on a bleak January evening and I can’t wait to see it again. Or buy the soundtrack. 

With any luck it will also do well at the Oscars and Baftas, but to me and my equally besotted wife, it will always be that bittersweet little film that decided to do something a bit different, and stole our hearts in the process. 

Yes it will look great on Blu-ray in a few months, but do yourself a favour and see it on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system. You’ll be so glad you did. 


The Nice Guys – The Review

When your last movie makes more than $1b, two things are certain: getting a green light for the follow up is easy and few people will question whether it needs a bit of work. 

So when Shane Black co wrote and directed The Nice Guys, he must have been buoyant from the success of Iron Man 3 and thought Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling would be perfect as the 1970s detectives trying to crack the mystery of a dead porn star. 

Alas, they aren’t. 

While both are formidable talents, neither have great comic timing, and both are sold short by the calibre of the script. Yes, there are some great one liners and the whole thing ticks over, but they fail to gel. It’s like Black had some great ingredients for a loaf of bread but didn’t add enough yeast. 

The old adage ’If it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not’ is shattered pretty early along with Gosling’s arm by Crowe’s chunky detective. 

One of the funniest scenes is Gosling trying to threaten Crowe in a toilet cubicle. Not so easy with RG’s trousers round his ankles and an arm in plaster. 

It’s moments such as this that hint at what a great movie TNG could have been. 

But Black milks the moment of Gosling discovering a dead body, gasping for comic effect but failing to raise a titter. 

The director works well with child actors as he proved with IM3; the dynamic between Robert Downey Jnr and Ty Simpkins, so little wonder he got the Jurassic World actor back for the opening scene. 

Gosling’s screen daughter, Angourie Rice, also works well here, 13 going on 33 like Natalie Portman in Leon. 

I suspect Black had penned the script years ago, popped it in a drawer and then dusted it down when given a green light to do whatever he liked. Though cut from the same cloth as his mid noughties cracker Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Crowe and Gosling combined fail to spark like Downey Jnr and Val Kilmer in that movie. 

By the third act I was pretty bored; there was too much going on and I didn’t really care about any of the characters. 

By the epilogue, the whole thing fizzled out like Black had just given up. It’s a long time since I’d felt that underwhelmed by a movie finale… until I saw Warcraft a couple of hours later. 

But that’s another story.