Thirty-five years separate Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner, and this, Denis Villeneuve’s hotly anticipated sequel, Blade Runner 2049.
In the intervening years, the question at the core of the original, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick, has been debated back and forth by sci-fi junkies the world over – a question I won’t allude to here, for those of you who, God forbid, haven’t seen the original…
Now, following sci-fi critical success with last year’s Arrival and his acclaimed narco-thriller Sicario (2015), Villeneuve is burdened with the task of finally providing an answer.
Topping many a “Greatest Ever” list, Blade Runner is a tough act to follow – easily one of the most beloved, cerebral and uniquely atmospheric science fiction films ever made.
However, the French-Canadian filmmaker has proven himself a worthy successor to Ridley, offering up a truly exceptional modern masterpiece, a breathtaking marvel to behold – a spectacle unlike anything that’s graced the big screen.
Certainly, 2049 takes all its narrative, tonal and visual cues from Scott’s original, but Villeneuve shapes those inimitable inspirations into something genuine and fresh.
This film is not without its occasional flaws, stretching the narrative logic a little too thin in places.
However, 2049 is so unequalled a cinematic experience, one can – and should – overlook those slight inconsistencies.
Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the original Blade Runner, you’ve got some urgent homework; you’ll be lost in the flood here, and while the visual feast may very well be a sumptuous one, 2049 will be hard work for the uninitiated.
As all promotional material has revealed, Harrison Ford returns as the iconic Deckard – however, it’s Ryan Gosling taking up the mantle of the titular Blade Runner here.
Set in a future LA where artificial humans – replicants – are hunted by Blade Runners, Gosling uncovers a secret that has the potential to send the already fractured dystopian society into turmoil.
To reveal anymore would be an unnecessary disservice, this is just as much a dark, gritty detective story as the original, and while all audiovisual bombast may render it a little less film noir-ish than its predecessor, the core joy of 2049 is in all its captivating intrigue and mystery.
Villeneuve has assembled a cast that inflect each step in this story with real, human emotion (regardless of their artificiality) – except perhaps for Jared Leto, who predictably hams it up in every scene he invades.
Sylvia Hoeks does a far better job in the adversary department, portraying a ruthless, sinister replicant on a mission.
There seemed to have been some unfortunate behind-the-scenes drama in the latter stages of post-production, as composer Johan Johannsson was dismissed, with the reigns being handed to Hollywood favourite Hans Zimmer, alongside Benjamin Walfisch.
In a film full of triumphs, this is perhaps the only disappointment.
Johannsson has proved himself a wonderful film composer through his previous work with Villeneuve, and was set to produce a score highly informed by Vangelis’ unforgettable themes for the original.
The barrage of dissonant synths we get instead is something special, but a million miles from the jazzy electronics of the original.
A shame, considering this is just as much a neo-noir.
A minor gripe, however – in this grittier dystopia, perhaps a more ominous score is needed; Blade Runner 2049 is an audiovisual spectacle that has to be seen – and heard – to be believed.
This is one of that rarest of breeds, a perfect sequel, one that lives up to the promise of the original and justifies its existence with a plethora of fresh ideas.
Just don’t let those ideas be wasted – see the original first!