Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista
In the current cinematic climate – in an industry obsessed with remakes and reboots and belated sequels – there remain some films that are considered too iconic to touch. For many years, this was the case with Ridley Scott’s canonical Blade Runner. Following the film’s ascension to cult status, the director (and a majority of fans) expressed no interest in the production of a sequel, but in recent years Scott evidently changed his mind.
Though he passed the baton into the capable hands of Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve for the direction of the new Blade Runner 2049, he stayed on as an executive producer, attributing the change of heart to a shift in the sci-fi landscape. This doesn’t mean that Blade Runner 2049 is simply a rehashing of the 1982 space epic, though; as expected of Villeneuve, the sequel pushes cinematic boundaries. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to have any kind of meaningful discussion about Blade Runner 2049 without reference to the original.
I always told you. You’re special. Your history isn’t over yet. There’s still a page left.
Blade Runner 2049 picks up three decades after the original Blade Runner left off, in a society that has followed the path of decline established in the earlier film. In this society, the titular ‘blade runners’ still operate to put an end to older replicants, the rogue artificial intelligence on which the overarching plot is based, who are much more subtle this time around, at the expense of their fearsome appearance.
Again, the protagonist is one of these blade runners, referred to only as ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling). Gosling’s performance as ‘K’ is typically enigmatic and sensitive (particularly in scenes with Ana de Armas’ ‘Joi’), playing to the strengths of the actor, who was reportedly Villeneuve’s only choice for the role. This served as a good counterpoint to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford’s much-anticipated, yet surprisingly brief, reprise as the original blade runner) who was just as debonair all these years later.
You’ve never seen a miracle.
Whilst there is some apparent fan-service at the beginning of Blade Runner 2049, with imagery and musical cues (think soaring synths) lifted from the original, it cannot fall prey to the same criticisms as the similarly long-awaited, similarly Harrison Ford-starring Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In fact, not only the story of Blade Runner 2049, but the way it is told, marks quite a divergence from its earlier counterpart. There is much more focus, in this film, on the construction of a clear narrative, with clever twists and turns littered along the way.
This does come at an expense, however; some of the ambiguities that made the original Blade Runner so intriguing are eschewed in favour of exposition, which also adds unnecessary weight to the already ostentatious production. Many of these scenes involve top-dog replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace who, despite interesting character design and a mysterious performance from Jared Leto, fails to feel completely necessary to the story, other than as a symbol of menacing corporate elitism.
Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.
Accompanying the luxuriant score (composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, who were brought in to ‘tweak’ the music of Jóhann Jóhannsson) was undeniably one of the films greatest strengths: its visuals. From its opening shots of dusty farmlands to the radioactive remnants of Las Vegas, Blade Runner 2049 captures a California that is at once eerie and beautiful. This is not a case of style over substance, either, but rather depicts a setting that builds upon that of the original, exploring the dystopian possibilities that we ourselves face.
What this setting doesn’t capture completely, however, is the tone of the original (there I go again, comparing). Where Blade Runner excelled in its tone and the claustrophobia of the gloomy city in which it was set, Blade Runner 2049 is found to be lacking, not spending enough time in any one location to fully immerse its audience.
I have memories, but I can’t tell if they’re real.
Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is a beautifully crafted film that will mostly put fans of the original at ease. Through stunning visuals, score, and characterisation, it builds upon its predecessor’s exploration of futuristic threats whilst diverging enough to remain fresh and modern. However it does, perhaps, occasionally overreach in its scope; whilst the original Blade Runner confined itself to a simpler story and left ambiguities in its wake, the sequel makes more attempts to explain a wider plot and, subsequently, sacrifices some of its intrigue and tone.