Starring: Ryan Gosling (Drive), Harrison Ford (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Ana de Armas (War Dogs), Sylvia Hoeks (Renegades), Robin Wright (The Princess Bride), Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Writers: Hampton Fancher (Blade Runner) and Michael Green (Logan)
Runtime: 2 hours 43 minutes
Release Date: 5 October (UK), 6 October (US)
We’ve seen plenty of nostalgia properties revitalized via reboots and sequels in recent years, but Blade Runner 2049 was immediately different before even a frame of it was shot. The original 1982 Ridley Scott film was not the beginning of a major franchise (we are not counting 1998’s pseudo-spinoff Soldier), wasn’t financially successful, and didn’t even do well critically at the time. Only years of recuts and reappraisal has garnered the film its reputation as one of the greatest sci-fi films, so the idea of making a sequel 35 years later, especially one with such prestigious new and returning talent involved, doesn’t immediately scream “cash grab”. Blade Runner 2049 has aspirations beyond being another Hollywood blockbuster. It wants to be a great film in its own right and, for the most part, it succeeds in that goal.
Talking about the plot of 2049 is difficult because it relies a lot on mystery, and revealing even the smallest details could give away the surprises. What I can say is that the story is not only rewarding to fans of the original, it manages to tread a very fine line between being overly loyal to the source material and forging a new path. The film explores and expands upon the lore of the original Blade Runner in interesting ways, but at times it can feel worryingly like it may be heading in a far-too-obvious direction. However, the film seems aware of audience presumption and does a good job of playing with storytelling conventions to create something new; every time you think you’ve figured it out, it pulls the rug from under you. Not only does this keep the film interesting, it perfectly compliments the themes of Phillip K. Dick’s work and Scott’s original film. 2049 is still very much about what it means to be human, but it answers those questions from a different perspective, resulting in a film that is definitely more than a rehash.
The cast of 2049 is an impeccable collection of some of the best actors working today, even in the smallest of roles, and they all deliver with the time they have. Ryan Gosling carries the film well as our new Blade Runner Officer K, giving a cold but emotionally resonant performance. His character is cool but sympathetic from the off, and Gosling layers what could have been a blank slate role with little intricacies in his body language and facial expressions. He is reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard from the original, but he is certainly no copy. Speaking of, Deckard’s role in the film may not be as big as the marketing has pushed, but he is a vital part of the story and Ford’s performance hits all of the right notes of bitter and angry regret. Ford is now two for two in successful revivals of his most famous roles; we’ll have to see how Indiana Jones 5 works out. Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks are easily the breakout stars of the film as Joi and Luv respectively. Armas’ sensitivity and beauty make her both a relief in a dark story but also a tragic figure, whilst Hoeks’ dominant and unstoppable attitude make for a suitably threatening antagonist. Jared Leto is interesting as the film’s equivalent to Tyrell, but he isn’t in the film enough and his character lacks substantial definition; he never even meets our protagonist. The rest of the cast are mainly puzzle pieces within the narrative but they all do a fine job with what they have, especially Robin Wright and Dave Bautista, and there may be even a few surprises for the hardcore Blade Runner fans.
The original Blade Runner wrote the book on how to depict a dystopian near-future on film, and so many other films have copied its designs in the years since. 2049 does an amazing job of revitalizing these now-familiar environments for the modern age, perfectly capturing the majesty of the prior work whilst also expanding and improving on them. Combined with the impeccable cinematography from Roger Deakins, who more than finally deserves an Oscar for his work here, there is not a single shot in this film that isn’t gorgeous to behold. The lighting, the colours, the fantastic use of elements such as rain and fog; it all makes this world feel even more real than it was before. The film’s score is fantastic too, with the compositions by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer replicating the moody synth beats of Vangelis’ music for the original whilst also feeling fresh. When you go see this film, be sure to see it on the biggest screen you can, with the best sound system possible too. This is a film that demands that you be immersed in it.
Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy successor to the original film, avoiding the mistakes of other recent revivals and bringing just enough new to the table. It may veer closer to Star Wars: The Force Awakens than Mad Max: Fury Road, as the film does rely more on building on the previously established like the former rather than forging a completely new path like the latter, but saying that is hardly a insult. I’d find it hard to imagine a fan of the original being wholly dissatisfied with the film, as long as they keep an open mind and don’t jump to any conclusions too soon, whilst I believe the film is fascinating and beautiful enough for a newcomer to enjoy too; they can always watch the original later and fill in the pieces. Director Denis Villeneuve has accomplished here what Ridley Scott couldn’t manage with his recent Alien films, and now more than ever do I see him as one of our great modern filmmakers. What could be more challenging for him than this? What, he’s going to adapt Dune next? OK. Clearly this man likes a challenge!
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10