Back in 1982, not only did we believe that 2019 would have flying cars (we best get our skates on then) but we were witness to movie history. Though it struggled at the box office, Ridley Scott’s now revered Science Fiction classic – adapted from the work of equally influential author Philip K. Dick – Blade Runner would come to inspire generations of filmmakers and film watchers. Capturing a dystopic futuristic LA and populating it with neon-lit promotion, fire-breathing chimneys and an amalgamation of mis-matched inhabitants, the film was a noirish vision of ferocity and bleak beauty, with the underlying themes still being deciphered to this day. As Harrison Ford’s “Blade Runner” officer Rick Deckard was tasked with hunting down the bioengineered Replicants, we were left to ponder the movie’s mystery, its characters and its many contemplative ideas. How could anyone dare tackle a sequel, especially 35 years on, after the film has been so analysed and respected? Step forward into the light Denis Villeneuve.
Off the back of an already impressive CV, most recently his 2016 Sci-Fi masterpiece Arrival, Villeneuve is a set of safe hands to handle a project so potentially inflammatory but did Blade Runner actually need a sequel? No, I thought it didn’t either, that is until I sat down and watched Blade Runner 2049. As the personalised IMAX countdown (with all those “Mind-Blowing”, “Earth Shattering” promotional phrases and whatnot) passed and Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch’s score kicked in, from then on in, I was absorbed. Blade Runner 2049 is an artistic accomplishment among motion pictures and certain not to be lost – like tears in the rain – among the many other sequels, reboots, prequels and spin-offs that reside in cinema history.
To delve into the narrative would be too risky, as this is a film with a plethora of hidden pleasures, but the film follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner who encounters an unexpected issue during an investigation, which could change everything. Yeah, that’s as far as I’ll go with a synopsis! Suffice to say there is a tonne to experience here, as this sequel develops the themes of the original, while joyously marking out its own trajectories and exploring humanity, superficiality, simulacrum and a society technologically advanced but even more morally degenerated. The sexualised holograms, product placement and run down areas of the neo-noir cityscape leap off the screen, just like they did 35 years ago, as so much has stayed the same but also so much has changed, from the scale to the morals. This film asks us about the nature of a miracle and about the impact it might have on existence and turns ideas on their head, as Villeneuve unleashes a film that dissects – often in timely fashion – issues, while offering up a mesmerising detective story that unfolds unpredictably. This is pure Sci-Fi, which blends aesthetic astonishment, with narrative ambition, a methodical pace and many moments of divisive ideological discussion.
The real power of Blade Runner 2049 is in how original writer Hampton Fancher and Logan’s Michael Green, assemble a screenplay that organically expands upon, as opposed to replicating, rehashing or replacing, the first film. The plot takes ideas and runs off in bold directions, as it also retains previously established mystique. Visually, it follows suit, with the rain swept locations evoking a familiar memory, while later dust cloud ruins introduce a whole new view of this world and it all marries together in a film that is literally an onscreen piece of art. There is really nothing else like it.
Speaking of aesthetics, this transportative work about playing god and finding a purpose (among the many other aforementioned themes) is blessed in this department. Zimmer and Wallfisch do wondrous work answering Vangelis’ iconic original score with their own take. Their music is synthy, hypnotic and effectively compliments the imagery. While Roger Deakins’ cinematography is Oscar assured, with every shot capturing something essential in every step of this winding, attention-demanding story. There are moments of stomach twisting violence, moments of bone-crunching brutality, moments of desolation and moments of sheer wonder. However, it is perhaps the moments of emotion slotted in-between that you’ll remember most and Deakins renders them all with aplomb, as does Villeneuve, the incredible screenplay and, the captivating cast.
Actual details must remain vague but this is really Ryan Gosling’s show and as Officer K, he is a core to the film and its many stirring themes, he is a conduit of pain, pain that can only come as a result of living in a world like this. Then there is darn fine support from Ana de Armas as the poignant Joi, a ruthless Sylvia Hoeks as Luv and, of course, the much publicised return of Harrison Ford as Deckard, who is on sterling form here in one of his most moving roles in years. In addition to this central cast, there are also important turns from Dave Bautista, Robin Wright and Jared Leto (that I won’t disclose), as this cast each sink into the world of Blade Runner and allow you to do so too.
Blade Runner 2049 truly is the Mad Max: Fury Road of 2017; it is a classic in the making that takes its cherished predecessor and rewards fans and newbies alike with a breath-taking opus of Science Fiction. It shatters the ceiling of expectation to deliver a riveting, overwhelming and intelligent sequel that is arguably the greatest film of the year.
It’s a shame I can’t relive it for the first time again but then again, who can?