Are you one of those purists, refusing to see the new Blade Runner film because you believe that the original was a one-off that can never be replicated? Or are you someone who is completely baffled by the whole ‘Blade Runner’ thing, asking such questions as ‘What’s this fancy, pretentious sci-fi film that my geeky mates won’t shut up about’? Well, person (or replicant), whoever you are, I suppose this article is for you. It’s an article about Blade Runner: 2049 and why it’s great. That’s why, y’know, I thought you might be interested in it or something.
Before we start, I think it’s necessary to mention that Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: 2049 probably won’t make a whole lot of sense to you if you haven’t seen Ridley Scott’s original film. Additionally, at risk of sounding like a pushy public service announcement here (have you had PPI? Claim today!), I also have to clarify that by ‘the first film’, I actually mean Blade Runner: The Final Cut, not Blade Runner: The Theatrical Cut or Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut. So, in all technicality, it’s ‘the third one’ you need to see before watching the sequel. Is it a frustratingly complicated and confusing situation for me to explain to newbies, occurring as a result of the intrusive studio interference that destroyed the subtlety of the original film? Yes. Is ‘The Final Cut’ objectively the correct way to experience this cerebral masterpiece? Also yes. I just don’t want you coming back to me – after having ignored this advice – saying, ‘Why does Harrison Ford’s voice over sound like he’s been shot up with morphine and forced to read the Wikipedia page of the Blade Runner universe at gunpoint?’ No one wants to hear that, Harrison. No one. ‘The Final Cut’ also has symbolic origami unicorns, so it’s obviously the superior cut.
Oh yeah, and finally, to enjoy this film, you have to be able to sit through two hours and forty minutes of beautifully crafted: cinematography, set design, dialogue, philosophy, plot, characters and robots without getting bored and looking at your phone. Not put off yet? Okay, I’ll continue.
For those of you that are still here, who I’m guessing, are either exceptionally patient folk with outstanding intellects or just clueless friends and family members that will read any old dross that I churn out (I’m aiming this piece at a very niche demographic, as you can see), boy, are you in for a meaningful, psychological journey with Blade Runner: 2049. I hope I can put all the fans of the original film at rest when I say that this is not a mindless action movie. Sure, there is action in the film and it’s beautifully shot. It’s the visually stunning action that I was emotionally invested in throughout, but that is not the primary focus of Blade Runner: 2049. If you are familiar with the original, you will know that it explores what constitutes ‘humanity’ with themes such as empathy, mortality and memories. Whilst the new film expands on some of these themes (particularly the memory one), it does not simply imitate and rehash them as many uninspired sequels have done in the past. Instead, Villeneuve builds on the Blade Runner lore and inserts his own ideas about subservience, slavery and our relationship with machines in the modern age into the mix. Thus, Blade Runner: 2049 is every bit as stirring and thought-provoking as its predecessor. A cynical cash-in, this is not. Make of that what you will, hardcore Blade Runner fans.
As for the cast, there is nobody here that I can criticise. Ryan Gosling is excellent as always, giving emotional depth to the replicant Blade Runner ‘K’, whilst Harrison Ford turns in a career-best performance as he reprises the role of Deckard for the first time in 30 years. Although, this time, he’s rather more grizzled and alienated than we’ve seen him before. Ana De Armas brings a sense of humanity to the scarily believable A.I girlfriend, Joi and inversely, Sylvia Hoeks is cold, calculating and incredibly badass as the villainous replicant Luv. As for the smaller roles in the film, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto both excel as they continue to cement their statuses as noteworthy actors in the film industry. Leto’s sociopathic businessman Niander Wallace could have arguably made for a better Joker than the zany ‘sweet-talker’ that he played in Suicide Squad. Additionally, Robin Wright brings integrity and gravitas to the character of K’s boss but unfortunately, she has very little to do. All in all, the cast does an exemplary job of carrying the film’s considerable emotional heft and weighty subject matter.
If I haven’t made this clear enough, Blade-Runner: 2049 is an audio-visual marvel, destined to be a major influence on the aesthetics of many future sci-fi (or sci-fi noir) movies. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if this film doesn’t win an Oscar for Best Cinematography and Production Design, some weird Wallace Corporation conspiracy is going on. Furthermore, the allusions to Vangelis’ musical score from the first film – at poignant moments – help to make this film feel like a worthy companion piece to its predecessor. Honestly, I cannot get into the mindset of somebody who found this film ‘boring’ because of the film’s extended runtime. It is a constant feast for the eyes and ears and it is a shame that more people won’t get to experience it in the cinema. In our age of Fast and Furious 20’s and Transformers 19’s, nobody expected Blade Runner: 2049 to be a mainstream hit at the box office and yet, such a lovingly made and artistic film does not deserve to be struggling to make back its $150 million production budget. It brings up the age-old question of whether art is compatible with mainstream appeal and it seems clear at this point that this film will not be the one to bridge the figurative gap. However, there is still time to support this film. All hope is not lost.
To summarise, this film is one of the most visually stunning, atmospheric and well-written films I have ever seen. It provides an immersive experience in the Blade Runner world and the film’s length helps to achieve this. The acting is faultless across the board, the cinematography is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the action is used sparingly, but when it does appear, it is enormously impactful as the characters are sympathetic, despite being synthetic. However, most importantly, it asks some extremely interesting and thought-provoking questions about the human condition through science-fiction concepts, much in the spirit of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: The Final Cut and the Philip K. Dick novel – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – that spawned the entire universe. Thus, this film will be considered academically worthy of study and film students may learn to dread its name in the years to come. Is Blade Runner: 2049 one of the best sequels ever? You bet. Don’t let it fade into obscurity. Like tears… in rain.