The past several years have seen something of a trend in sequels to decades-old feature film classics, typically with less than stellar results. Blade Runner 2049 absolutely bucks this trend however, forsaking the tried-and-tested “let’s just do the first movie again and we’ll get original if we get a third one” mentality that led to less than triumphant sequels to TRON, Predator, and Independence Day and instead skipping straight to the sequel fans have dreamt of for years. Fans, noticeably. And that distinction is important, because, outside of that established fan base, Blade Runner 2049 has literally no mainstream appeal, outside of it being the single most visually and stylistically groundbreaking film of 2017.
Thirty years, law enforcement officers known as Blade Runners continue to safeguard the denizens of Los Angeles from the threat of rogue replicants – synthetic beings designed for slave labour, and gaining ideas above their station. It’s a mission to deal with one such replicant that K (Ryan Gosling) stumbles across a secret buried in the past that, when unearthed, could spell a fundamental shift in the very foundations of society, a secret he’s assigned to ensure to bury at all costs and that will take him face to face with former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Though you’d genuinely struggle to find a cinephile worth their salt who won’t call Blade Runner an outright genre-defining work of science-fiction cinema, one element that has been overlooked in decades of hindsight is that it was also a strangely dull movie. A fantastically made film, no doubt, but a dull theatrical experience on a pure popcorn level, and yet it’s on such a level that Blade Runner (a financial flop, we forget) appears to have been retrospectively placed in the minds of fans, fans who presumably don’t see the inherent danger in a studio dropping $180m on a sequel with exactly the same credentials.
It’s a double-edged sword, no argument, for whilst Blade Runner 2049 is a laborious dragged-out needlessly-slow and conventionally unentertaining movie, it’s a film so steeped in the thematic resonance of what it actually is and what it actually means, that – combined with the most jaw-dropping production of the year – it stands a towering film nonetheless. Writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green don’t so much follow-up Blade Runner’s story as they do, fittingly, evolve it instead. Composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, meanwhile, take on the unseen viable task of following up Vangelis with a score that somehow manages to prove more than worthy, and, if Roger Deakins doesn’t snag the Oscar for his cinematography on this one, it’d be conceivably terrifying to see that work of whomsoever beats him.
The cast are uniformly great, with Ana de Armas particularly emerging as quite an impressive and surprisingly acclimatised presence, while Gosling (treading water, but in that AAA calibre way he’s refined the past half decade) makes for quite a compelling new lead. Even the returning Harrison Ford gets to flex his acting muscles in a way he hasn’t in a long long time, this is no “one for the money and the fans” reappearance (ala The Force Awakens), but rather a brilliant addendum and intriguing cinematic coda afforded a character the likes of which are so rarely seen even in sci-fi.
The true voice to be heralded for all of the film’s successes, though, is Denis Villeneuve, whose previous standing as a multiplex auteur on par with Christopher Nolan now seems positively naive in hindsight. Crafting a film that ostensibly plays like an adaptation of the Twitter feed One Perfect Shot, sounds like a Biblically-crafted synthwave orgy and operates as literally the greatest live-action sequel since probably The Godfather Part II, Villeneuve new transcends any such mere comparison. This is the moment in the sun that affirms the French Canadian filmmaker as one of the top tier talents working in the business today, and if the you’re not already excited by the mere thought of what he’s got cooking up next (and, boy, are there some doozies in the pipeline…) then clearly you’re reading this whilst still waiting to see Blade Runner 2049 for the first time.
Blade Runner 2049 is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, October 6th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.