Director Denis Villeneuve’s first foray into sci-fi resulted in 2016’s awe-inspiring Arrival. Now at the helm of long-awaited sequel Blade Runner 2049, can Villeneuve reinvigorate a science fiction staple?
Reviving classics rarely ends well, with executive producer Ridley Scott somewhat butchering the mystique of his own iconic property with 2012’s middling Prometheus and this year’s weak Alien: Covenant. Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 sits firmly alongside George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Expanding a saga while pushing boundaries and defying expectations of what a blockbuster can achieve.
Set thirty years after Scott’s original, trailblazing Blade Runner, a newer model of replicant has been built to obey. Ryan Gosling’s LAPD officer “K” is tasked with “retiring” older models that have a tendency to go rogue. Upon tracking down Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton, the obsolete replicant alludes to a miracle that would not only disrupt K’s complicity, but plunge an already crumbling world into chaos. The riddle begins revealing itself as K unearths truths and in the quest for answers, he decides to pursue Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a “blade runner” who once walked the same path.
Gosling’s quiet magnetism brings an enigmatic aura to officer K. He’s undeniably efficient at his job, adhering to orders that are barked at him by stern Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) and passing strangely unsettling baseline tests with ease. However, his genuine affection for his virtual girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) and his ability to empathise with her longing to see the world, is at odds with what he’s solely designed for. Ford reprising his role as Han Solo in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was simply fan-service. As Deckard, Ford is able to sink his teeth into far more. Time, loss and the decaying world has ravaged him and while retaining his signature charisma, delivers his finest performance in years. Blade Runner 2049’s supporting cast also shines as wrestler-turned-actor Bautista continues to flourish. De Armas’ gentle touch breathes life into a manufactured hologram and Sylvia Hoeks is utterly unnerving as menacing replicant Luv.
Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s script nods to 1982’s Blade Runner with echoes of its source material, Philip K Dick’s remarkable novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ringing throughout. Composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch mirror and renew Vangelis’ unforgettable, haunting score. Crucially, there’s not an over-reliance on nostalgia, with Blade Runner 2049 obtaining its own identity, but retaining the brooding, ambiguous tone that shaped the original.
This year’s solid but problematic Ghost in the Shell was visually impressive, but there’s a depth to the disintegrating world created within Blade Runner 2049 that is truly breathtaking. Masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins captures scorched, derelict wastelands and stark, vivid cityscapes that appear endless. Amongst Blade Runner 2049’s pure spectacle, that unquestionably warrants the big-screen experience, is a wealth of substance. Villeneuve, who is yet to put a foot wrong, confidently blends staggering set pieces with understated, soulful moments that deconstruct what it is to be human.
Without the studio interference and multiple cuts that plagued and disjointed the still spectacular original, Blade Runner 2049 is a smoother ride that will undoubtedly share Blade Runner’s classic status. Firmly cementing itself on the short list of outstanding sequels that rival their predecessor.