Blade Runner 2049 review: 'It's 2hrs 40 mins long, but rushes past in a glorious blur - it is constantly, miraculously, visually inventive'
It's a sobering thought, but the original Blade Runner was set in 2019, which gives us just two years to invent flying cars, acid rain storms and replicants.
Actually, they probably already have replicants, but otherwise Ridley Scott's 1982 dystopian drama was a bit ahead of itself in predictive terms. Then again, it was ahead of the curve in lots of ways, addressing problems like pollution and global warming at a time when those topics were unfashionable, and using miniature models and primitive special effects to paint a compelling vision of an embattled futuristic Los Angeles.
Nothing like it had ever been seen before and despite its flaws, which were mainly due to an ugly post-production edit, Blade Runner's aura has grown with time and is now recognised as one of the truly great science-fiction films. No pressure on Denis Villeneuve then. The French-Canadian film-maker must surely have wondered if he was fielding a hospital pass when he agreed to come aboard this project as director. Harrison Ford would reprise the role of grizzled assassin Deckard, Ridley Scott would watch from the wings as executive producer: there'd be no shortage of expert critics if Villeneuve didn't get it right. The original Blade Runner's strongest suit had been Ridley Scott's futuristic urban landscape, with its floating billboards and giant talking advertisements. As he's proved with Sicario and Arrival, Villeneuve has the visual flair to match Scott's extraordinary achievements - little did we know he'd surpass them.
Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 years after the first film and life on Earth has dis-improved. Ecosystems have collapsed and a mogul called Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has grown powerful by inventing synthetic farming. He's also branched out into androids and come up with a new breed of replicant that doesn't disobey orders. Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is one of them and works for the LAPD as a blade runner, hunting down earlier models of his kind that were not quite so biddable. Only the losers have stayed behind on Earth, most of the rich humans having departed for new pastures, and the landscapes K crosses in his flying banger are blasted and barren.
When he tracks down and 'retires' a rogue replicant on a remote farm, K finds a skeleton buried nearby. When it's taken in for analysis, the remains lead him to an old but very important mystery involving the legendary blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford). He hasn't been seen anywhere in years, but when K manages to track him down in a ruined Las Vegas, both men are in for a shock. Blade Runner 2049's story is relatively simple, but has all the existential resonances of the original film. In this devastated landscape, the humans seem to be the ones with the faulty moral compasses, while the replicants pause Hamlet-like to ponder the meaning of it all.
When not killing things, K retires to a dingy apartment to commune with a beautiful female hologram (Ana de Armas) he's convinced himself he loves. K wants to feel, to live fully, and begins to wonder if one of the childhood memories embedded in him by his maker might actually be real. Even his cynical human boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) tells K she sometimes forgets he's a replicant: is he really any less sentient, or conscious, than she is? Villeneuve's film is two hours and 40 minutes long, but rushes past in a glorious blur. It is constantly, miraculously, visually inventive and Roger Deakins' glorious cinematography is enhanced and deepened by haunting sound effects and Hans Zimmer's soaring electronic soundtrack. There is action as well as reflection, ugliness as well as beauty: K and Deckard's brutal first encounter takes place against the crooning backdrop of an Elvis hologram, and a scene in which K's craft is harpooned and pulled down from the sky is breathtaking.
It this actually better than the original Blade Runner? I'm not sure yet, but it has to be seen, preferably on the biggest movie screen you can find.
Films coming soon...
The Snowman (Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson); The Ninjago Movie (Dave Franco, Olivia Munn, Justin Theroux); The Ritual (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali); It's Not Yet Dark (Simon Fitzmaurice, Ruth Fitzmaurice); The Party (Cillian Murphy).