It famously took Ridley Scott three different versions of Blade Runner before he perfected the neo-noir sci-fi film fans have come to adore.
Director Denis Villeneuve, who cut his sci-fi teeth on Arrival last year, has no such issues in delivering this exhilarating and worthy sequel. Transcendence (2014), Ex Machina (2015) and Westworld highlighted the continued appetite for A.I. mayhem – Blade Runner 2049 provides more of that and then some.
The setting is largely familiar: rain thrashes down in a smog-clogged Los Angeles where huge Coca-Cola billboards rise desperately from the dirt below. The sun never shines but if it did it would cast light on the reality that human life has achieved flying cars at the cost of destroying the planet. It’s an immersive dystopian landscape that may leave you feeling uneasy in your chair.
The sun never shines but if it did it would cast light on the reality that human life has achieved flying cars at the cost of destroying the planet.
The film’s protagonist is Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a ‘blade runner’ for Los Angeles Police Department tasked with ‘retiring’ synthetic humans, and it is on one of these assassination missions where we initially find him. During this, K’s path becomes inexorably interlinked with that of former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
The unsolved mystery of whether Deckard is himself human or ‘replicant’ was the climactic ending to Ridley’s 1982 picture, but this detail ripples maturely into insignificance as greater, more pressing issues come to the fore in 2049.
As K goes in search of Deckard, he soon learns he has more in common than he initially thought, especially with the deviant and devastating Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) countering their every move.
Indeed, the women in the film are its lifeblood. Lieutenant Joshi is K’s superior, played convincingly by Robin Wright, best known for her role as Claire Underwood in House of Cards. Dr. Ana Stellin (Carla Juri) is a curious, unplaceable individual who ‘makes memories’ to implant in replicants; and Joi (Ana de Armas) is K’s girlfriend whose perfection is only hampered by the fact she is sadly holographic. In Joi’s desire to be ‘real’, the audience bear witness to one of cinema’s most unique and intimate sex scenes.
Blade Runner 2049 is a film both married to and divorced from its 1982 predecessor, delicately retreading the steps of the first while competently introducing its own compelling narrative. It takes a new Hollywood form with a more polished persona. There are many comparisons to make with Rian Johnson’s Looper (2012), but Scott’s dystopian world is all the more captivating. Villeneuve’s generous use of landscape shots allow it to avoid the claustrophobia that besets the first film, with vivid oranges and blues evoking memories of Tron.
A slow burner it is and, at 163 minutes, perhaps a tad too long. Harrison Ford’s eventual appearance does seem belated, and Lennie James and Barkhad Abdi are on screen so briefly they are forgotten as quickly as they are introduced. That said, if you dare nod off at any point you will be violently awoken by Hans Zimmer’s dark, shuddering soundtrack.
Producing a sequel to any film is difficult, not least one so seminal as Blade Runner. Here the embers of nostalgia glow brightly in a picture that will both satisfy old fanatics and entice new fans.