A sci-fi sequel to a cinematic classic 35 years later feels like a recipe for disaster. So is it worth stepping back into the neon-tinged not-too-distant future of replicants and runners?
Blade Runner: 2049 (2017) is a sci-fi sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners). It stars Ryan Gosling as ‘K’, a blade runner hunting down the illegal Nexus 8 replicants 30 years after the events of the last film. But when K discovers a long buried secret connected to former blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), he begins to unravel a conspiracy that threatens the role of replicants in future society.
This movie should be awful. A long-gestating sequel to a cinematic classic should fail on all accounts. And yet, here I am calling Blade Runner 2049 not only one of the best films of the year, but one of the best sci-fi movies of recent memory. I’m not going to jump on the ‘instant classic’ bandwagon just yet, but this movie is such a masterclass in so many ways that it becoming beloved by cinema history feels inevitable.
Lets start with the utterly spectacular visuals of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. While the grungy aesthetic of the original has been replaced with a much cleaner and futuristic vision, its no less visually stunning. Each distinct environment on display here bursts with not only incredible design, but also camera placements that create a feast for the eyes. Its a future world that has been realised with the utmost potential and every single frame of this movie could be framed and stuck up in a gallery with no complaints. Even 3D, which is something I usually scoff at, is used to the best effects possible by giving greater depth and scale to a film that was already stunning to look at even without the glasses.
Something that does skew closer to the original is the story itself. This is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, and not only does it expand on the world of the first but it has maintained the essence of that film over three decades after its release. The story is a natural progression, the richly realised themes perfectly complement the original and most importantly this film earns its existence in a way many cash-grab sequels cannot. Its clear Villeneuve has great respect and reverence for the original, and the attention to detail and gentle care that has gone into this continuation makes for an incredible movie. It does also have the same pace as the original film, which is something to be aware of for anyone expecting a big screen thrill ride, but unlike the first the story is complex and intriguing enough to maintain engagement throughout.
The performances is one thing that I can definitively say improves over the original. Ryan Gosling proves yet again he’s one of the best actors in Hollywood right now, owing plenty of his character to the original Harrison Ford while also forging a new path. A couple of scenes in particular are more than enough to earn an Oscar nomination. The supporting cast of Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis and the returning Harrison Ford are also all excellent. This is the best performance from Ford I’ve seen in a long time and while his real-life grumpy uncle act remains intact, there is a strong hint that this is a franchise and role that he cares about. My only real caveat is Jared Leto. He plays the shadowy head of the Wallace Corporation and frankly comes off as a little insufferable. While the performance isn’t necessarily bad per-se, his dialogue is painfully indulgent and overt in its thematic layers, speaking in little more than thinly veiled biblical allusions which stand out from the rest of the script like a sore, preachy thumb.
But Leto aside I find little fault with the rest of this masterwork. Even as it clocks in at a hefty 164 minutes, I was engrossed and intrigued the entire time at the sheer impressiveness of the movie before me. Its visually staggering, tightly constructed and dripping with reverence for the original. For any lovers of the first Blade Runner this is a must-see. But for everyone else, this is still a damn good movie.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Must-see