Running Time: 163 minutes
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto
A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.
So Blade Runner 2049 is finally here, after months of nervously waiting for the film’s release I’ve finally seen it and pretty much loved it.
Admittedly its near three hour run-time is a little too long, but it feels like we’re watching a definitive director’s cut of this film first time round, compared to the numerous versions Scott tinkered with before finally delivering his ‘Final Cut’. Personally I’m not as big of a fan of Scott’s ‘Final Cut’ as others, for me it overstates the importance of the ‘Deckard Question’ throughout the narrative and takes away much of the ambiguity regarding that issue.
Yes Ridley we get it, you think he’s a Replicant!
That said I still love the original, it was a film that was ahead of its time and even though I was probably too young to really appreciate it first time round, I remember being quite taken by the film’s visuals and Vangelis’ amazing score. Over the years I’ve re-watched the film umpteen times and it’s become one of my all time favourites, the fact that Scott has returned to the film so many times to finally deliver a cut he was happy with has only added to its mystique.
So I’ve been apprehensive about this sequel, but thankfully I needn’t have worried!
Returning to a World of Tears and Unicorns
Blade Runner 2049 inhabits a space somewhere between J.J. Abrams work on The Force Awakens and Joseph Kosinski’s Tron Legacy, it’s steeped in nostalgia for the original, but never feels like a mere rehash of what we’ve seen before. Villeneuve’s film takes the ideas at the core of Philip K. Dick’s source material and explores them with considerable vigour.
Are Replicants capable of love? Are we defined by our memories? Could Replicants ever be masters of their own destiny, or are they ultimately destined to remain subservient to their human creators? The film packs a lot into its runtime, but at its core it asks the question what would happen if a synthetic being could give birth naturally: would a creation that was born rather than manufactured have a soul?
Visually it’s a masterpiece and the score drips with nostalgia for the work Vangelis did on the original, but I’d expect nothing less from a film with Roger Deakins as its DOP and Hans Zimmer involved as a composer. It remains true to the ‘Tech-Noir’ aesthetic of Scott’s film, yet confidently expands upon the original’s LA setting as it explores a society ruled by big businesses and bureaucracy. The Tyrell Company from the original may be gone, replaced by the equally mysterious Wallace Company, but it’s reassuring to know that companies like Coca Cola, Atari and Sony still flourish within this dystopian future.
At nearly three hours long the film will test the bladder of even the finest Nexus-6 model, it’s sluggish and takes a little while to really click into first gear. We might be returning to a familiar world, but there’s a lot of setup and exposition to get through as the film explains what’s happened in the 30 years since the end of the previous film. This time round the narrative is told from a new character’s point of view, Ryan Gosling’s character known only as K for much of the movie.
“I Have Memories, But I can’t tell if they’re real!”
Like Deckard in the original he’s a Blade Runner, tasked with hunting down wayward synthetic beings: but unlike his predecessor we’re told pretty early on that his character is indeed a Replicant. Gosling is great in the film’s central role, he looks the part in his long trench coat and his performance reminded me of the emotionally detached characters we’ve seen him play in previous collaborations with Nicolas Winding Refn.
Like Deckard in the original K finds himself falling for a synthetic being, only this time he’s fallen for his holographic companion Joi, fantastically played by Ana de Armas. She’s designed by the Wallace Company to offer the ultimate live-in girlfriend experience to her owner, their romance plays out much like the relationship between Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore and Scarlett Johansson’s A.I. character Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her. Just like in that film by the end of the movie we’re left to question how ‘real’ their relationship ever really was. Was Joi truly unique? Was she actually in love with K? Or was she merely doing what she was programmed to do?
As the story unfolds K begins to believe he is different from his fellow ‘skin jobs’, something unique and special and it’s this belief that sends him looking for Deckard to the sun-drenched, dust-filled wasteland that was once Las Vegas.
Despite his prominent billing in all the trailers and posters, Ford’s Rick Deckard is pretty much a peripheral player for much of the film’s narrative, like Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens his character has gone into hiding and become something of a legend, a great Blade Runner who suddenly vanished without any real explanation.
Thankfully when he does finally appear he at least gets much more screen time than Mark Hamill in J.J. Abrams’ film, emerging from the shadows to deliver a quote from Treasure Island, delivered with all the trademark gruff demeanour we’ve come to expect from Ford over the years. His appearance really clicks the film into first gear, he works well with Gosling and he injects some much much needed humour into proceedings: more importantly he offers up some much needed answers to many of the questions the film has posed, well not all of them!
In a clever piece of writing the Deckard question is never really addressed throughout the entire movie, early on we’re given an explanation as to how he could still alive for this sequel, if indeed he is a Replicant: but we’re never told definitively whether he is or isn’t one. It’s a nice way of placating fans who didn’t really want the question answered (myself included) as the writers have treated the subject like Schrodinger’s Cat.
We’re given both possibilities, he can be Human or Replicant, but we’re never actually given a definitive answer.
Villains Without a Cause
Sadly it’s not all so overwhelmingly positive, the film lacks a great villain, Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace has an interesting god-like complex regarding his Replicant workforce, or angels as he refers to them: but he’s not really given very much to do throughout the film and the same can be said about his bad-ass assistant Luv (Sylivia Hoeks).
There’s something about her that reminded me of Sean Young’s Rachel from the first film, but she’s nowhere near as delicate or fragile: in fact she’s pretty much the exact opposite, a femme fatale who kicks some serious ass throughout the movie: but just like Leto’s character she’s not really given very much to do within the narrative other than follow Wallace’s orders and hunt Deckard down.
It’s a shame because the original Blade Runner had a great character as its so-called villain,but can we really consider Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty as an outright villain? You could probably argue that Deckard was more of a villain than Batty, after all he’s tasked with ‘retiring’ wayward Nexus-6 models whose only crime was to want more life than the four-year life spans allotted to them by their creator.
Okay I know they killed a lot of people on the off-world colonies prior to the events of the first film, but what I’m trying to say is that Batty and co weren’t your standard villain of the week types, their were reasons why they did the horrible things they did, but we just don’t really get that here with Blade Runner 2049. Niander Wallace merely wants to find this new Replicant for his company’s own financial gain.
That said I still think this belated sequel is a pretty fantastic piece of film-making, one that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Villeneuve’s film doesn’t just try to rehash what’s been done before, nor does it just pay lip-service to fans of Scott’s original. It’s a solid sci-fi feature in its own right, filled with big ideas and a genuine sense of scale and ambition and isn’t that what the cinematic experience is all about?
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A stunning visual masterpiece! A film that’s been worth the wait and just about justifies it’s near three-hour run-time. Whilst it hasn’t found a home at the cinema, I think this is a bona-fide cult classic in the making.