Waiting 35 years for a sequel is going to be hard. Waiting 35 years for a sequel to one of the most revered Sci-Fi films ever is a double edged sword: The longer we wait, the more canonised the original becomes, and the harder it is to do something which won’t tarnish the memory whilst the clamour for more gains steam. In Blade Runner 2049 Denis Villeneuve has been put in an almost impossible situation and he very, very nearly manages to meet those expectations.
From imdb’s synopsis (in an attempt to not give anything away) here’s what it is about, in case you didn’t already know:
Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
And that’s all you get. The best thing is to go in unaware. Sure there are the short prologue films (see them all at the bottom of the page) that are available and they do a great job of setting up the current world but they also do a great job of stirring the excitement, building the hype, whetting the appetite (I think you get the idea!). So, proceed with caution but ultimately I found them to be worth it, and great little films in their own rights.
First things first, this film is visually stunning; bringing a lighter, more colourful palette than the original but still with that dismal rain pouring. Everything looks astounding and the effects are so well done as to make you think it is all real. Sweeping transitions occur as we follow K’s police vehicle across the vast and disparate landscape, changing from urban sprawl to wasteland, sea to nuclear desert and all in glorious Deakins-vision. This is top of the range cinematography, nothing better (surely he has earned an Oscar at last……).
The sprawling slum-like mega city of Los Angeles, punctuated by the monolithic corporate buildings and the LAPD is hugely impressive. Neon-soaked main thoroughfares show people being targeted by and interacting with virtual advertising. It all just looks amazing. This is the realism that Ghost In The Shell was missing in its attempt to bring the anime to life. I would have been happier to see more of this street level action, getting in and amongst the people but we only get fleeting, but still really good, glances into this world.
Ryan Gosling is almost ever present on the screen as LAPD Officer K as he goes about his job of finding and retiring older Nexus-model replicants and he handles it fairly well, coping with the action sequences admirably and holding the camera in numerous close-ups. Harrison Ford, as the weary and aged Deckard, lacks none of the charisma and ability that has made him the star he is today, rolling back the clock and putting in a performance that belies his advancing years. Jared Leto, as the industrious and God-complexed Niander Wallace, takes the role of being the threat seriously but manages to remains slightly aloof and with a penchant for a monologue that is straight out of the villain handbook. For all this it is Sylvia Hoeks who stole the show for me as Wallace’s ever-willing and remarkably able assistant Luv. Ana de Armas plays her role as K’s partner Joi well, but lacks a depth to her character. Mackenzie Davies is the living embodiment of Daryl Hannah’s Pris from the original. I was amazed when she turned up on screen and immediately felt stupid that I hadn’t noticed it before when it is that obvious! Robin Wright plays the hard headed, hard drinking police chief Joshi, but with a bit of a maternal streak, and she does it well, showing strength and control but at the same time having something broken inside that is overcompensated with alcohol. The increasingly impressive Dave Bautista has a small but important role in this and he ably carries it off. Speaking of which, the violence in this film is really well done and effective, not elaborate or over the top but what we do see on screen is concentrated for maximum effect.
But it is not all greatness unfortunately. There is a missing emotional link that left me with a feeling of a disconnect, a distance that only flickers into existence momentarily throughout. The camera may be revolving around Ryan Gosling but he isn’t able to command it quite like his predecessor.
The score and sound effects power in (and in IMAX it definitely does the trick), throbbing base as the ships streak past and land, thudding as punches are landed and walls are broken. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score isn’t subtle, but it does its job, sometimes over egging it and at others swaying into Vangelis-esque synths.
I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but that isn’t to say that this isn’t a really good film, just not quite a 5 star film. Let down primarily by the depth of the story-telling and by the lack of connection/emotional content that the original had it just misses the bulls-eye. This is a different type of film to the original and maybe in time it too will be revered as an equal (and I am all for Denis Villeneuve to be thought of in those terms) but for now, once the memory of the amazing visuals dies away, you are left with something that doesn’t quite get full marks in all areas. One of the main things that stands against this film for me is the lack of ambiguity that was pervasive in the original, the not knowing that still causes discussion today, a mystery that is hinted at but never explained. Because of this it sometimes feels a bit to linear, a bit too obvious which road it is taking, which, strangely, I have never had an issue with in any Villeneuve films in the past. Not having the amazing source text to draw from really shows when you look back at the film as a whole.
Denis Villeneuve is a director that I have a lot of time for, and this is a great effort at updating the slow-burning sci-fi classic. Possibly it is a bit too long, there are some definite ups and downs with the pacing that could have been improved upon but this is a really enjoyable return to the world of the Blade Runner.
Blade Runner 2049, and its introductory shorts, do a great job of bringing the replicants into this day and age and if more people are drawn back to the original that haven’t experienced it then all the better. The three prologue short films to get you in the mood (and to fill in some gaps!) can be found just below. If you want to explore more about the Blade Runner timeline follow this link, click here.
Blade Runner 2049 – Black Out 2022
Blade Runner 2049 – 2036: Nexus Dawn
Blade Runner 2049 – 2048: Nowhere to Run