“Sometimes to love someone, you got to be a stranger.”
Classic movies don’t come much bigger or more revered than Ridley Scott’s timeless 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner. And although I probably use the word ‘masterpiece’ too liberally a lot of the time, with Blade Runner there’s no denying it – it’s a stone cold masterpiece. With Denis Villeneuve this time at the helm, and most of the old film making team back in some capacity, could a belated sequel be a success? Only time will tell if 2049 outshines it’s predecessor but as it stands, 2049 is a fantastic and cerebral sci-fi and a more than fitting follow up to one of the best films of all time.
Straight away fans of the original film will find themselves in pleasantly similar territory. Like a warm hug from your favourite android sex hologram, there is something instantly comfortable about Blade Runner 2049′s recognisable world of replicants and 80’s synth. An opening extreme close-up shot of an eye-ball is enough to signify to fans that this is gonna get nostalgic. The film opens on Ryan Gosling’s Officer K, an android hunting blade runner and rather contradictory; an android himself. He’s a supposedly more modern, more obedient replicant compared with the older models he’s out to ‘retire’. That’s what brings him to the home of Dave Bautista’s ageing replicant Sapper Morton who, unlike the replicants of the first film, haven’t got restrictions on their life spans. K finds something among the quiet life Morton’s built for himself; something that leads him on a journey across the sprawling wastes of future Los Angeles, meeting with a few familiar faces along the way. To say more would be to ruin the surprise of the film but it’s safe to say it took some turns I wasn’t expecting (a third act reveal fantastically takes apart the ‘chosen one’ trope all-too prevalent in sci-fi cinema) while at the same time honouring the film that came before.
A sequel has been on the cards for a while now, usually with original director Ridley Scott attached. And while the news that Scott had stepped down from directing duties delighted some, I was worried. A lot of modern Ridley Scott films do, admittedly, have script problems (ahem The Counselor) but that’s not always his fault. Plus even at his worst Scott can produce some visually stunning movies. Would it be Blade Runner without Scott’s gorgeous direction? Turn’s out I needn’t be worried as director Denis Villeneuve and DP Roger Deakins bring us one of the most visually stunning films of the decade. The first film is loving referenced in the neon-lit streets of future-LA (and the brilliant use of more retro special effects) but Villeneuve and Deakins take us even further in to the world. From the red, barren landscapes of a desolate Las Vegas to the rubbish dump landscape of future San Diego, the pair delight us by showing us a side of Blade Runner the original didn’t. Original writer Hampton Fancher returns though, and brings with him the big questions and the purposeful pace of the original. Familiar ground is covered but not to the film’s detriment. The ‘what makes us human’ question that ran through the first film is still here though and handled maybe even better than in the original film. And a touching ‘tears in rain’ style moment leaves us with as poignant an image as the first film ever gave us.
Whether the cast hold up to the original is arguable. Ryan Gosling is fantastic, as always, as the restrained and tortured android, K. His holographic
waifu girlfriend Joi, played by Ana de Armas, is a surprise. I wasn’t expecting much but came out thinking she was perhaps the best character. An always appreciated appearance from the awesome Robin Wright as K’s badass police chief, Lieutenant Joshi, is a highlight but surprisingly she isn’t even the most badass character in the film. Than honour goes to Wallace’s android second in command; the murderous Luv, played brilliantly by relative newcomer Sylvia Hoeks. What the film suffers from though, is a lack of a Roy Batty type character. This is all personal opinion mind – a lot of people will appreciate that the film doesn’t cover old ground – but a complex ‘villain’ that we root for as much as (if not more than) our main character is one of the things that made the first film so fantastic. Hoeks is brilliant as Luv but she isn’t given the same sort of complexities as Batty. And Jared Leto as the ‘big bad’ Niander Wallace is defiantly trying something but I can’t for sure say it’s good. His performance actually reminded me of Nicolas Cage in that, while I’m not sure whether it was awful or a the fantastic, I’ll happily pay to watch him do it. The other big name in the cast is the returning Rick Deckard; Harrison Ford. Despite his screen time amounting to probably less than 30 minutes, he puts in one of the best performances I’ve seen from him in long time. In one particularly moving scene (involving a a character from the original film and a fantastic feat of CGI) Ford is so good you’ll remember why the hell he was ever a such a big star in the first place.
The bottom line: Blade Runner 2049 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best possible Blade Runner sequel any fan could have hoped for. Sure the film’s villain game is a little weak but when everything else is this good it doesn’t really matter. The world it creates is beautiful and sprawling, much like the original, and the cast are outstanding across the board. Denis Villeneuve continues to show us he’s probably one of, if not the, most accomplished film maker of our time and the Deakins cinematography is downright gorgeous. Only time will tell whether it will reach the dizzying heights of the first film’s cult appeal but one thing’s for sure; Blade Runner 2049 is probably the best movie of the year.