How refreshing… a sequel to a film over thirty years old that doesn’t feel recycled and captures the tone and atmosphere perfectly!
A Blade Runner is a special law enforcement officer dedicated to hunt down Replicants, artificial humans who are incredibly hard to identify and should they go rogue, pose incredible risks. Following the story of K and set decades after the events of the first film, he is a Replicant Blade Runner, who finds himself at odds with his own origins while on the hunt for answers to potentially the greatest revelation for Replicants yet.
From the off, director Denis Villeneuve is a master at creating jaw-slackeningly good looking movies, as well as crafting incredibly atmospheric, grim and slow-paced thrillers. He hasn’t made a bad film yet; Prisoners, Arrival, Enemy, Sicario (for all of its incredible bleakness, was still a well made movie) and giving him the helm of a sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir Blade Runner was… frankly… inspired.
Let’s face it, it is good current-Ridley Scott didn’t make this…
For what is something of an oddball choice to make a franchise out of, Blade Runner 2049 is exceptionally well realised. A lot of audiences will not have seen the original, which did not do well in box office, but became an incredibly influential; basically launching the sub-genre of science fiction known as “cyberpunk” all on its own.
But like its predecessor, this sequel is a moody, atmospheric crime thriller set in dizzying cities of bleak neon-bathed dystopia. From the moment it begins, the theatre rumbles with an electro-orchestral score, one moment eerie and the next moment flaring with synth and bone-rattling bass, an incredible nostalgia hit that instantly takes you back to the same universe as the first film.
With a premise like this: futuristic cop hunts down super-strong androids in a dystopian future, there was every risk that this new film could have been a disaster. It could have been a start to a bigger franchise, it could have been a brainless, choppily edited, blurry 12A action flick. But no.
Efforts have been made to replicate the original. Blade Runner 2049 has achieved something that even Star Wars: The Force Awakens failed to do; become its own film. In terms of modern cinema reaching its grubby hands into the past, this film makes none of the regular mistakes, we don’t get scenes riffing off the original, we don’t get lines lifted from the original. This is a new story set in the same universe. Heck, even returning actor Harrison Ford is not the focus of this film.
No, leading this film is the incredibly photogenic Ryan Gosling, who is absolutely no stranger to the sorts of films Blade Runner was; moody, quiet and subtly evocative (Drive, Place Beyond the Pines). He is a perfect fit as a Replicant who was made for a singular purpose. Beside him is Ana de Armas as possibly the most memorable sci-fi character in a while, surely to get people talking. Jared Leto also excels here as the creator of a new line of Replicants. His role is small, but extremely effective.
It is a long film, clocking in at two hours and forty minutes, but for once (in a time of excessive Transformers films with the same run time!) it feels justified. K’s investigation is slow and ground-level; we see everything from his perspective, the film cleverly drip feeds us information to keep the pacing tight and fluid. There’s a conscious effort throughout the film to always have a maximum of two people conversing in most scenes, otherwise it is Gosling on his own, drenched in wonderful cinematography.
That may sound tedious, but as a great admirer of the first film, this sequel handles everything well enough that it does become emotionally resonant by the end.
It is a somewhat simple story, but Blade Runner 2049 benefits from it. There’s no bombastic showdown or CGI actors fighting over-the-top action scenes, it is about the world and what it has done to the people in it. It is a view of a future, a world choking on technology and over-population, a sense of global tragedy is apparent throughout this movie. Tremendous vistas of endless cities scapes, towering monolithic super structures, the film tells you so much about the world with such evocative and subtle means.
I am sure some audiences will be put off by it, saying it is “boring”, but in terms of making a successful sequel to something so old and respected (something Hollywood is currently quite terrible at) this is how it should be done. You could watch the first film and then this one together almost seamlessly.
It is a stunningly beautiful movie to see, as is Villeneuve’s trademark, wonderful soundtrack that is 100% on point with the first film, and having wanted more Blade Runner once before… I could not have imagined it working out this well! Quite probably one of the best sequels ever made.