BLADE RUNNER 2049 is the most highly-anticipated sequel in SF, if not this decade, then certainly this year. We’re living in a world in which sequels are becoming the norm. We’ve recently been treated to sequels or prequels to many seminal SF series, and nothing seems sacred. BLADE RUNNER is one of those films that is not only hugely influential, but also terribly self-contained. Does such a SF classic really need a sequel?
BLADE RUNNER 2049 is the story of Officer K – a replicant blade runner, tasked with tracking down and retiring rogue replicants in the desiccated remains of Los Angeles. K lives a restrained, solitary life with his holographic girlfriend Joi – a product of the Wallace Corporation, the company responsible for reinvigorating the repliacant industry. However, a routine mission reveals the existence of a replicant with reproductive capabilities; blurring the final line between artificial and natural lifeforms. K is soon embroiled in an investigation that threatens to spark a war between man and replicant…
I saw BLADE RUNNER 2049 last weekend, and I immediately knew that I wanted to review it for my blog, but I also knew that I needed to let the film settle. It’s one of those films that you need to properly digest, to consider, before you can really form an opinion of it. So, here’s my review. Be warned, spoilers will follow!
First things first: BLADE RUNNER 2049 is pretty damn great. It extends the reach of the original, but manages to remain as deep and profound in the same breath. When I first learnt of plans to produce a sequel to BLADE RUNNER, I was really concerned that the film would receive the “Hollywood treatment”: that the depth of the original would be replaced by superficial action sequences. Just think of the plotline for BLADE RUNNER in simple terms – “cop chases androids through a future LA” – and you can see how it could’ve been reduced to a basic SF action film. However, and thankfully, 2049 does not fall into the Hollywood trap. It’s a superb continuation of the original story, both in terms of plot, theme and style.
2049 is beautifully shot. Virtually every location, every scene, is a sight to behold; and despite the decades between, the film manages to capture the retro-future vibe of the original absolutely perfectly. Everything here feels like an extension of the BLADE RUNNER world – from the enormous holographic adverts, to the monolithic high-rise towers, to the creepy neo-gothic corporation buildings.
But can anyone actually compete with Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard as a lead? Again, despite my initial scepticism, Ryan Gosling’s Officer K does a fantastic job. Gosling delivers K in a deadpan, droll style; perfectly noir on one hand, perfectly replicant on the other. He is an enslaved hunter –as the plot develops, unable to contain the cascade of emotions that he experiences and doesn’t know how to deal with. I thought that it was a great decision to effectively turn the “is Deckard a replicant” question on its head: here, there’s no doubt that K is a replicant from the opening scene, but his real doubt is whether he is human. That reversal of the original’s main theme is powerful and works very well.
I couldn’t finish this review though without a few points that did irk me as I watched BLADE RUNNER 2049, and even after a few days thinking time they still stick. Firstly, 2049 feels as though it lacks an effective antagonist. The original had Roy Batty – the android who loved life, and was willing to do anything to cling to it. 2049 doesn’t have anything like that character: the closest we have to a proper antagonist to Niander Wallace (played by Jared Leto). Wallace was probably supposed to be creepy, and a driving force behind the wider threat of war. However, he feels superfluous, and the scenes featuring him don’t drive the film along at all. He’s definitely no Roy Batty, and if he was supposed to be Eldon Tyrell, he’s not that either. Secondly, the soundtrack felt lacking to me. Vangelis original film score was so impactive, so evocative, that it’s hard to actually imagine something competing. However, M83 came close with the OBLIVION soundtrack, and Daft Punk did a similar thing with TRON: LEGACY. The soundtrack here is abrasive and overly industrial – at times, detracting from the film.
Finally, BLADE RUNNER 2049 suffers with some pacing issues. At 163 minutes, it’s a long watch, and I wonder whether some viewers might take issue with the laconic pacing. The staging of the third act in particular feels as though it could’ve been more tightly edited; as we close on final threads of the story, the long lingering shots between lines of dialogue feel unnecessary. Sure, the visuals are so good that often this is a hollow criticism, but I felt as though the film would’ve benefited from a tighter edit.
I’m genuinely only making these criticisms though because I love the original BLADE RUNNER so much. It’s a film that would be very hard to top, and yet 2049 comes pretty damn close. BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a hugely effective sequel, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.