Okay, I gotta own up. When it was announced last year that a sequel to the iconic 1982 sci-fi movie Blade Runner had been green-lit, my first response was “Oh no, don’t”. Blade Runner stands alone; to try and replicate or extend the story seemed unnecessary, and more like simply cashing in on a name.
My hopes were raised somewhat when I heard that the director would be Dennis Villeneuve (fresh off making another great sci-fi movie, Arrival), and that Hampton Fancher – screenwriter for the original Blade Runner, was a co-writer on the sequel’s script.
And now, I’m taking it back. Blade Runner 2049 is a triumph. There were so many ways this movie could have disrespected the original work and its fans, but it avoids nearly all of them. Instead, it drops you right back in that world, with the same vibe, and moves the story forward 30 years in a logical and believable manner – though with a twist most people probably won’t see coming.
The visuals are amazing. Between the set design, the lighting, and the cinematography, it at once puts you back in Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner world, and yet brings its own stylings. Dennis Villeneuve’s direction is, as I expected, superb. There is a scene featuring a glitching Elvis hologram that is at the same time surreal and exciting – I would pay just to go see it alone.
The soundtrack – like the other elements of the film, facing a massive challenge to match or improve upon Vangelis’ original score – sets the atmosphere beautifully, without copying the original sound (though there are certainly homages in there).
Kudos to everyone involved also for making this how it needed to be: it is long (almost 3 hours), and often the pacing is deliberately slow and atmospheric, rather than having regular action scenes – I’d imagine the studio would have wanted an hour cut out of it, and more action scenes, but Villeneuve says that was not the case at all.
Surprisingly, given the length of the film, this is mostly Ryan Gosling’s movie. Characters who you might think would have a large role in the movie – due to their use in the trailers, and the status of the actors playing them – don’t actually get a lot of screen time. The plot points revolve almost exclusively around Gosling’s character ‘Joe’, and he features in most scenes. And while there was debate as to whether he was the right choice to follow Harrison Ford as the lead role in a Blade Runner movie, he plays the role well (in fact, one of the largest criticisms of him as an actor – that he doesn’t show much facial emotion – works in his favour with the dispassionate temperament of his character).
If there is a problem with the film, it is that it doesn’t have any high concepts of its own – the original Blade Runner introduced us to the replicants; used them to illustrate how memories do not always represent reality, and the immorality involved in ‘retiring’ (ie. killing) beings who, as the movie says, are ‘more human than human’; and the struggle against mortality. The sequel simply builds on these and extends them. And while the dialogue and acting in the sequel are outstanding, I’m not sure there are any particular moments that will become part of popular culture, such as Roy’s “Tears in rain” speech from the original.
Blade Runner 2049 instead simply takes the humanity of the replicants even further (in a way I can’t be specific about, because spoilers, but is very neat). Which allows it to be an excellent film – but perhaps not an iconic film like the original. Although, it must be said, perhaps I as a viewer am to blame for constantly comparing it to the original, even as I watched it, rather than judging it on its own merits. But I’m not sure how that can be avoided – I’m sure I won’t be alone in doing that.
Another issue that could be raised with the film is that of diversity – there are people of colour in this film, but mostly only in passing, while the ‘main’ cast is composed of Gosling, Ford, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared leto, Robin Wright, and Cuban Ana de Armas. Blade Runner fans will no doubt be pleased though to see one particular actor from the original film get a small cameo…
But all in all, given the expectation surrounding this film – following on some 35 years after it’s now-legendary predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 knocks it out of the park. I highly recommend seeing it in the cinema, to experience the visuals and sound effects as they should (just make sure you get a comfy seat).
Did Blade Runner need a sequel? Absolutely not.
Did it get a worthy sequel. Yes, definitely.