Whether we needed a sequel to Blade Runner, one of the most iconic science fiction films ever made, is a question for a different time. The fear among fans of the original was that a sequel or reboot would pale in comparison to its predecessor, staining its legacy. Thankfully that isn't the case, and even if it doesn't leave quite the same impression as its predecessor, it's still suitably respectful to its revered legacy and delivers a cinematic experience worthy of Ridley Scott's original tale of synthetic soul searching and urban dystopia.
Denis Villeneuve has once again demonstrated his ability to frame a motion picture, and Blade Runner 2049 is as visually stunning as you'd expect from an accomplished director helming a big budget production with a legacy to protect. Satisfyingly, screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green clung to the memory of the original movie and honoured the timeline, unlike the many reboots of faded stars we're willingly subjected to in these risk-averse days. Watching back the original in 2017 throws into relief how off course - or maybe just short of the mark - Scott's prediction for 2019 was, but that imperfection is embraced in Blade Runner 2049, and it's all the more convincing for it.
The cinematography is hugely impressive. Vast sprawling skylines intertwine with murky rain-soaked streets, and the architecture harks back once again to a vision of the future as viewed through the lens of brutalist '80s neon. A harrowing portrait is painted, and Villeneuve basks in the stunning grimness of this vision, framing a wealth of stark moments with his confident eye. Perhaps he even lingers a little too long on the imagery, and while a picture does indeed paint a thousand words, sometimes this attention to artistry came at the expense of giving us something more tangible and immediate.
The overall story felt complete, but there was one subplot in particular that felt undercooked, and given its prominence come the end, and the squandered opportunities to explore it along the way, reflecting on it once the credits had rolled revealed a missed opportunity to bring the whole thing together for a more satisfying and weighty conclusion.
What we were served up still hit the right notes, make no mistake, thanks in large part to an enigmatic performance from Ryan Gosling, who plays the titular blade runner. K is a hunter of replicants who, with blind obedience, reports back to Lieutenent Joshi (Robin Wright) as he digs deeper into a mysterious death uncovered as he performs his murderous duty. It's a fitting evolution of the story, though, and links back nicely to the original with appearances by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and then more significantly, Deckard.
Harrison Ford continues his recent trend of getting involved with the reboots and restarts of some his most iconic adventures, but while at times his appearance in Star Wars felt more like homage, here there is no such sentimentality. If anything, Deckard's not in the mix soon enough, and once again we're left with the feeling that while that first meeting with K looked great, a touch more context would have been the cherry on top. The original struck a perfect balance between show and tell, but it took multiple edits to get it right, so we can forgive 2049 for slightly missing the mark at its first attempt.
The beating heart of both Blade Runner movies is Philip K Dick's probing novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and questions surrounding the meaning of life, self-awareness, and what it means to be alive? Thanks to the thought-provoking relationship between K and his holographic companion, Joi (Ana de Armas), this conundrum is explored in new and interesting ways, and the introduction of Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) throws a contrasting dynamic into the same melting pot of ideas. Come the end we're left in no doubt, though, with our firmly entrenched position confirmed by our feelings toward Jared Leto's portrayal of industrialist Niander Wallace.
It's a complete experience, then, and one that echoes the ideas of its predecessor while moving the story along to a satisfying new conclusion. You could argue that Villeneuve indulged himself too often, but when the results of his indulgence look this good, it's hard to begrudge him a lingering look or two. Visually magnificent and complimented by a crunching synth-inspired soundtrack, Blade Runner 2049 is a well-paced cinematic feast for the eyes, and a decent sequel to an all-time classic. The storytelling is quality too, however, we think it needed to be given room to grow into something more, something that felt as alive and as visceral as the stage it played out on.
There is a trilogy of short films that add some background to the new story, and you can watch Black Out 2022, 2036: Nexus Dawn, and 2048: Nowhere to Run for additional insight into events that take place in Blade Runner 2049.
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