Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. For many movie lovers across the world, Ridley Scott’s 1982 science-fiction classic Blade Runner is the greatest film of all time. As it happens, I saw it for the very first time five days ago. For unknown reasons, the film buff staple had passed me by for twenty seven years, but as I rectified it, I could see why the stunning aesthetic, perfect score and hypnotic tone captured the imagination of millions. It’s safe to say that my virgin experience with the original Blade Runner made a fan out of me, but since I was lacking the strong nostalgia that long term lovers possessed for the franchise, perhaps I was better equipped to come to Blade Runner 2049 with a fresh and unbiased perspective.
As the title suggests, Blade Runner 2049 takes place thirty years after the events of its predecessor, with some handy opening captioning letting us know that society consists of humans and improved replicants. K (Ryan Gosling) is such replicant who lives with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) and works as a blade runner for the LAPD. After he is assigned to investigate a replicant uprising that leads to the discovery of a significant thirty year old skeleton, K’s sense of self awareness and meaning is turned upside down when he becomes aware of a long missing former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), and the potential connections that the two share.
The first thing to say about 2049 is that in the grand scheme of both dystopian science-fiction and sequels, it’s a great piece of work. Just as the original was in 1982, the film is absolutely visually stunning. Quite literally every single frame could be taken and placed on the wall of a gallery. In trying hard to replicate (pun intended) the aesthetic feel of Blade Runner and in the genius vision and touch of director Denis Villeneuve, the audience are presented with something that feels like a truly important event, not just images filling the screen.
That being said, from a personal point of view, I don’t find the film to be quite as perfect as many other critics out there. One of the things that appealed to me most about Blade Runner was its hypnotic tone. In comparison, rather than hypnotic, 2049 feels moody, and I certainly prefer hypnotic to moody, especially when the filmmakers are asking you to stay engaged for nearly three hours. Running at 163 minutes, the picture feels too long, and though I can’t say that I was bored at any point, the first thirty minutes bordered on ponderous and could definitely have been treated more economically. There is no doubt that, for the audience who are going to be drawn to this film, the good outweighs the bad. Almost incomprehensible to somebody who hasn’t seen the original, 2049 has the benefit of being a film entering in to a franchise with an already adoring fanbase. Those who love Blade Runner will be delighted to spend half an hour more than is perhaps needed in the cinematic universe. And with the sequel spouting cogs visibly moving in to place in the picture’s final third, I wouldn’t bet against the next Blade Runner instalment arriving much sooner than the 32 year wait for this.
As protagonist K, Ryan Gosling continues his streak of great performances, fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most valuable and diverse actors. There aren’t many out there who can both melt hearts in a classic musical and kick ass in a high octane sci-fi thriller, but Gosling’s talents stretch across multiple genres and, though I always get the sense that he is as much himself as he is the character on screen (much like Harrison Ford, to think of it), it’s been a long, long time since he disappointed. The marketing for 2049 leads one to assume that Harrison Ford is front and centre, but when it comes to screen time his presence is much more limited than you might anticipate. Ford slips back in the character of Rick Deckard with ease, making up for his increased years with increased layers and depth, and together the two actors share a satisfying dynamic.
Jared Leto as key antagonist Niander Wallace, a rich creative genius with a villainous God complex, is a touch hammy for my personal taste. He plays the role with such gravitas that, it has to be said, the performance verges on parodic at times. I understand that as a narrative choice the character operates in a somewhat elevated, detached manner to everyone else, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Leto’s grandiose cadence started to grate. Quick shout out to Robin Wright as K’s superior, Lt. Joshi. With stellar work in this season’s House Of Cards and another brief effective turn in Wonder Woman, Wright has been making some top notch cameos this year.
Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is a great addition to the Blade Runner universe. Though it’s not quite perfect and certainly wouldn’t be fully effective as a stand alone picture, the film is a glowing example of a sequel done right. That word has become a dirty one in today’s cinematic landscape simply due to the plethora of lazy, money grabbing, below par sequels that plague the release calendar, but this is a film that does much more than just put Blade Runner back in the public eye, it really does enhance the universe. I not class it as one of my personal favourites of the year, but I can absolutely understand those who do.