Thirty years after the hunt for three Replicants through the futuristic streets of L.A. plunged him into an existential crisis, vanished former ‘Blade Runner’ Deckard is tracked down by a skilled younger officer trying to unravel the mystery of a secret which threatens the fabric of an already fractured society—in Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi classic.
Thirty-five years after Scott changed the face of sci-fi by injecting new levels of atmosphere and profundity into the genre with his adaptation Philip K. Dick’s novel—not to mention inspiring a generation of filmmakers, writers and game designers—Villeneuve takes on the daunting task of maintaining a continuum of iconic characters and an unmistakable vision of the future, while infusing decades of filmmaking evolution into a sequel worthy of its lofty origins . . . and boy does he do justice to a title etched into our collective film-loving consciousness.
In a world where Replicants have graduated from off-world colonies to Earth as maligned and mistrusted servants of mankind, Ryan Gosling stars as capable young NYPD officer and Blade Runner ‘K’, who stumbles upon a long-buried secret while tracking down rogue Replicants. With the help of his omnipresent lady ‘Joi’ (Ana de Armas), K tracks down vanished fellow officer ‘Deckard’ and crosses paths with powerful self-styled magnate and Replicant creator ‘Niander Wallace’ (Jared Leto) and his most formidable creation ‘Luv’ (Sylvia Hoeks)—unravelling a mystery and connect the pieces of a puzzle thirty years in the making, which could destroy the precarious balance in a brittle society.
With a impressive track record of finely adapting existing material, the Québécois director always seemed to us an inspired choice to revisit this iconic cinematic landscape. After proving his commitment to profundity and reflection in the genre with his 2016 opening sci-fi salvo ‘Arrival’, Villeneuve assembles masters of picture, sound and word, combining them with an eclectic cast to bring us about as worthy a sequel as you’re likely to see three-and-a-half decades after the impact of the original.
Both visually and sonically ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a cinematic work of art for the masses, featuring dynamic action sequences befitting its 21st century craftsmanship, impeccable production and costume designs, as well as stunning futuristic landscapes and cityscapes (often bathed in neon glory), all rendered in a beautiful colour palette which features everything from the recently popular sunset oranges to rust browns and faded greyish blues—all captured by master cinematographer and now regular Villeneuve DoP Roger Deakins.
The film provides a continuum from the original in terms of its cyberpunk vision of the future from a distinct 1980s perspective, with Villeneuve remaining faithful to a Los Angeles with a heavy Japanese influence—only grimier, grittier and even more multi-cultural, taking it further away from a dystopian vision and uncomfortably closer to reality . . . apart from the whole synthetic human thing of course.
As the 1982 original was, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is as much a treat for the ears as it is for the eyes, featuring a score collaboration from Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch which captures some of the atmospheric and tonal mastery of the groundbreaking Vangelis score from the original, but takes it to new directions with a pulsating quality which befits the more thriller and action-oriented feel of this version—and lest we not forget the piercing quality of the film’s sound design, which augments the memorable visuals and the action.
The cast also do their part to make this cinematic tapestry come to life with solid performances all around, led by Gosling as an implacable character whose latest mission places him in an existential quandary and plunges him into an identity crisis—but ironically like the Replicants themselves, all the stars on show are here to serve their master . . . the story.
Like great sci-fi has the power to do, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is hugely socially relevant, reflecting who we are as a species and the society we’ve built around ourselves—taking the high-minded central themes from the original film and bringing them to the next logical and profound level. Not only does the film deal with the very notion of humanity and sentience, and corresponding themes of exploitation and slavery as they relate to the very history of civilisation, but it also serves as a parable for the scaremongering over immigrants, refugees and the maligned in our society. Inevitably due to the nature of the story, this sequel is even more of a commentary on our increasing reliance on technology, the consequences of a seemingly inevitable symbiosis with it, and what that could mean for the future of our species.
Yet for all the impressive components in this dazzling cinematic package, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ will—whether fairly or not—be compared to the seminal original, and that’s where its few limitations conspire to prevent it from being a true masterpiece. Thirty-five years after the original and through no fault of its own, this sequel inevitably doesn’t have the novelty factor and can’t have the stylistic or narrative impact of the original—much of the atmosphere and neo-noir mystery quality of ‘Blade Runner’ is also gone and this ultimately feels closer in tone and style to a modern studio sci-fi thriller than anything else . . . albeit a masterfully conceived and executed one.
Parts of the narrative direction are also slightly iffy, with the choice to make Replicants more pervasive in society slightly taking away from their mystique, and potentially setting up an unwarranted franchise. Perhaps the weakest leak in the whole endeavour though is the enigmatic business tycoon and master of Replicants ‘Wallace’ played by Jared Leto—coming off slightly one-dimensional and too Bond villain-esque for the story, and ultimately proving far less compelling in his many on-screen minutes than Joe Turkel was as the equivalent character ‘Dr. Tyrell’ in the 1982 original . . . and with less screen time.
But leaving the nitpicking from high expectations aside, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is another impressive feather in the cap of a filmmaker who is rightly becoming among the most celebrated working today. Denis Villeneuve manages to achieve a highly unlikely feat here—a mesmerising and engrossing piece of mind-expanding science fiction which does justice to the original over three decades later . . . and almost makes a near three hour runtime feel like a breeze.
The Bottom Line…
Against the odds Denis Villeneuve manages to craft a worthy sequel to an all time sci-fi classic which never really needed one. Masterfully bringing together all the meticulously crafted elements to present a completely engrossing and stylistically mesmerising film with plenty of intrigue and humanity, but most importantly building on the profound existential foundations of the original—reflecting who we’ve been, who we are and where we might be going as a species.
Set in a near-future where man and machine have become one; a crime-fighting cyborg leads a counter-cyberterrorist unit against a dangerous and shadowy hacker who targets individuals and crucial systems at the heart of society, only to discover the truth about her past and the organisation which conceived her—in a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of the hugely popular Japanese Manga.
Directed by Rupert Sanders and starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk and Takeshi Kitano among others.