- This review is Spoiler-free.
Welcome back to Los Angeles. This time, it’s the year 2049 and moviegoers can finally open their eyes and return to the world of Blade Runner after a 35-year wait. This is a sequel that should never have even been considered. And yet, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) has overcome what could be considered as the greatest burden of the cinematic world and created a sequel as poignant and meaningful as the first.
A statement has to be made before the rest of the review that if you haven’t seen the original Blade Runner, then this is a sequel that might be troublesome. Whilst the megacity will seem familiar to fans, a lot has happened to California since Rick Deckard hunted down the rogue Nexus 6 Replicants in 2019. 3 short films, created by the Blade Runner 2049 Crew help to tie the two films together (All 3 can be viewed on YouTube, courtesy of Warner Bros.).
At 2 hours and 43 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 is just shy of 50 minutes longer than its predecessor. And yet once the credits begin to roll, it’s unexpected. The pacing of the film is evenly spread – even the somewhat overdrawn moments of skyline gazing, snow-catching and self- discovery are as welcome as they were in the original. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has perfected his craft, reminding us that whilst the world of Blade Runner is a universe of rich stories yet to be told, it is also a canvas. In 2049, Los Angeles seems bigger than it did in 2019 – and yet it has become much darker. Deakins demonstrates throughout that Los Angeles is drenched in shadow. But this is balanced well by the occasional and welcoming explosion of colour from the neon streets of the city. There are moments of clarity in Deakin’s cinematography; so much so that we absorb even the tiniest details in the frame. This is something that I believe was missing from Blade Runner (1982). In a world suffocated by god-like structures and claustrophobic, busy streets, Villeneuve and Deakins take time to breathe with large, wide frames featuring almost nothing but an object or character.
Ryan Gosling, still fresh from his big Hollywood success with La La Land, clears our pallets with his portrayal of Agent K – Blade Runner 2049’s new Replicant-hunting cop. His performance is inward and evocative, drawing similarities with his equally unsettling performance in Drive (2011). For the most part, Gosling takes centre stage in 2049’s narrative – sending him on a journey of discovery that leads him down paths that other dangerous parties have yet to find. Gosling’s character gives us closure as the narrative twists in a surprising direction. The script serves Agent K extremely well, giving us a perfectly rounded character development that will leave audience members satisfied, if not a little heartbroken.
Harrison Ford’s return as Rick Deckard is, like in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, almost applaudable. And yet, Ford here plays a character so far removed from the typical hero archetype that you can only feel a sense of impending dread when he finally graces our screens well over halfway into Blade Runner 2049. In 2049, Deckard is haunted – and Ford plays this excellently. Whilst the original film may have shown Deckard to have overcome his demons by the time he runs away with Rachel, it is clear that in the year 2049, nothing could be further from that assumption.
In addition to the two biggest names in the film, Jared Leto does a superb, almost redeemable performance as Niander Wallace – the films prophet-like antagonist. And whilst some other familiar faces are seen sparingly throughout the near 3-hour runtime, the biggest surprise here is Agent K’s love interest Joi, played by Ana de Armas. Her very unique story takes a surprising turn early on and her relationship with Agent K will become an important case study for film academics, much like the relationship between Deckard and Rachel in Blade Runner.
After a disappointing announcement that long-time Denis Villeneuve collaborator Johan Johannson would no longer be attached to the Soundtrack for Blade Runner 2049, super composer Hans Zimmer does a pretty notable job along with Benjamin Wallfisch. This is not Vangelis. Nor is it trying to be. But Zimmer and Wallfisch create new yet familiar tones that will have you smiling. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is just a little too loud and deadly. Vangelis’ original soundtrack was an integral part of Blade Runner’s narrative – breathing within the film instead of accompanying it. Here, in Blade Runner 2049, Zimmer and Wallfisch’s score only succeeds in accompanying the story, scaring and creating tension. In doing so, 2049’s score flies too close to the sun on its way to evoking the original soundtrack from 1982. The final notes in Blade Runner 2049 will send Vangelis-like shivers down your spine, but unfortunately come too little too late.
Blade Runner 2049 is a rare sequel that takes a story and expands it whilst also making its first instalment much more poignant. Themes expressed in Blade Runner of identity, love, existentialism are prominent in 2049 as much as they were 35 years ago. What works beautifully in Blade Runner 2049 is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of having to please fans with satisfying answers, much like Ridley Scott’s recent instalments in the Alien franchise. There is an overwhelming biblical sentiment in the story, with Leto’s Niander Wallace making statements about his God-like place on earth, tasked with saving humanity after the great blackout of 2022 and then creating a new, more trustworthy Replicant series that he compares to Angels.
Blade Runner 2049 does a marvellous job of transforming the Replicant story from a portrait of self-identify into a Matrix-like prophecy – without ever hinting at the possibility of a revolution. All the magic and splendour of Blade Runner is preserved in 2049. Certain lines delivered by key players hint at even bigger revelations, but as the plot thickens our presumptions about certain storylines are blown out of the water whilst simultaneously keeping us at a healthy distance to ponder for another 35 years. Or perhaps maybe not quite as long.
Blade Runner 2049 – 9.1/10