Hollywood’s history of 30 years later “legacy” sequels (give or take) hasn’t exactly been a badge of quality – long mooted returns like Independence Day: Resurgence and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull left general audiences not only massively dissatisfied but also filled fans with the kind of pulsating nerd rage that usually leads to some basement dweller to tastelessly carry on about how said redux molested his childhood.
With this in mind, the act of sequelizing Blade Runner seemed like an incredibly poisoned chalice – especially what with original Blade Runner director, Ridley Scott, retconing his Alien franchise into a showcase for androids being weirdly freaky with mixed results – but handing over directing duties to Sicario and The Arrival director Denis Villeneuve was thankfully a masterstroke as Blade Runner 2049 may be one of the most respectful belated sequels we’ve ever been gifted.
Set, unsurprisingly, in 2049, we rejoin this grim future only to notice a fair few things have changed. Oh, the stunningly oppressive cityscapes are still in effect but since the bankruptcy of the Tyrell Corporation, manufacture of the biological slave race known as Replicants is still going strong thanks to the the not-at-all sinister Wallace Corporation who seemingly have cracked that pesky problem of the artificial humans gaining free will. Blade Runners are still utilised to hunt down and dispose of the older, Nexus models who still desire their freedom but the twist here is that the agent we follow this time is a Replicant himself who goes by the name of K.
During a routine search and destroy of an aged Nexus-9, K discovers evidence in the area of the buried remains of a Replicant whose bones display she died during a cesarean section which obviously has massive ramifications for both the Wallace Corporation and society in general but for very different reasons. The authorities want K to find the child and its father and “retire” them in order to stop a future uprising of Replicants while the immensely creepy Niander Wallace wants to harvest everyone involved to speed up the Replicant creation process to meet rising demands and sends his own enforcer, an over enthusiastic Replicant named Luv, to keep an eye on things.
As K attempts to negotiate this mine field of his bosses waiting for any excuse to shut him down, the Wallace Corporation keeping an eye on his every move and a batch of Replicant freedom fighters wandering in and out of his path, the sullen Blade Runner tries to crack the case. However, as his investigation leads him from the rainy cities to the deserts of a dystopian Las Vegas in search of a retired Blade Runner named Deckard, K starts to suspect his own origins may be linked with the answers he desperately seeks.
The first Blade Runner was a deliberately paced, plot-light, stylistically dense slice of sci-fi noir, detested on release but who pulled itself up to timeless classic in the many years since. The future it depicted made Metropolis look like Disney land and nothing quite like it had been visualized in cinema before and before you know it, it was endlessly imitated. Thankfully, the makers of 2049 are wise enough to realise this and impressively choose to take their own path. Having around thirty years separating Scott’s film and his, Villeneuve desires not to copy the original, but instead evokes it by matching the pace and visuals by putting his own spin on the iconic architecture. The filmmakers also have no intention to play to the blockbuster crowd and instead of flinging out inexplicable, giant action scenes and random in-jokes, the movie pumps out genuinely gorgeous visuals, big questions about life and metaphors (due to either rain, sandstorms or plain old mist, none of the characters can see 30 feet in front of them, just like the twisty plot) and it all unfurling at a slow, mournful pace that stubbonly insists that we’ll get there when we get there…
Everyone is on their A-game. Ryan Gosling as Officer K deploys those big-ass, soleful eyes with lethal effect, Harrison Ford is extra rumpled and super grumpy as the returning Deckard (as he should be) and Ana de Armas is tremendously touching as K’s AI “partner” who fascinatingly acts like she’s his spouse despite neither of them being real. Added props have to go to a mournful Dave Bautista and a legitimately unnerving Sylvia Hoeks as the brutal hench person, Luv, who tackles he job with a desperate need to be appreciated like some adult, Replicant version of a pageant kid. But the real star of the show are the agonizingly gorgeous landscapes, both hauntingly beautiful and seductively imposing and the sight of a trio of Spinners cutting through the drizzle in front of a 60 foot neon Atari sign made me ache to my core. Sadly there is no Vangellis on the soundtrack to highlight these nightmarish/dreamy images but Hans Zimmer has rolled up his sleeves and turns in a fittingly atmospheric score that ironically recalls one of Blade Runners best contemporaries, Akira, more than the orginal Blade Runner itself.
However – and I realise this may be an unpopular opinion – Blade Runner 2049’s Achilles heel turns out to be it’s rather indulgent run time that tends to drag things out instead of getting to the point and while the original movie got all of its literal soul searching done in just under two hours, Villeneuve’s sequel just keeps going and going and probably could use a Replicant-style limited lifespan itself a little. Another thing that may bother some (but not me) is the movie really isn’t afraid to do it’s own thing and is refreshingly uninterested in exploring the decades old mystery of whether Deckard is a Replicant himself in favour of simply focusing on K’s internal struggle of self.
With all that being said Blade Runner 2049 truly is a gift to true cinema goers and should be treated as such as the notoriously thoughtful director has turned in yet another morally complicated piece that also plays to his particular talent of creating stunning, minimalist imagery in mainstream cinema.
At turns gorgeous, intriguing, frustrating and moving, Blade Runner 2049 famously bombed on its initial release which, ironically, is probably the final puzzle piece that truly make it a legitimate Blade Runner sequel and manages to turn yet another potentially awful legacy sequel from a Replicant to a Replican.