Good things come to those who wait. Sometimes they’re really good. BLADE RUNNER 2049 not only builds on the world created by Philip K Dick and visualised by Ridley Scott, but it takes the ideas behind both much further and also manages to leave a mark all its own.
A lot has happened since Deckard (Harrison Ford) hunted down four rogue replicants and fled for a better life. Three decades on, replicant production has been perfected, the artificial humans made to follow orders and live their lives as second-class citizens. When a routine job for Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) uncovers some evidence with earth-shattering implications, K goes looking for Deckard, and for answers.
If Ridley Scott’s film was chiefly about androids searching for a soul, 2049 is about artificial beings owning their memories. If you’ve lived a life and your memories guide your actions, are they not your own, even if they were once artificially implanted? There’s some real soul-searching and strokey-beardy philosophising behind this question.
2049 goes one step further along from asking, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” Holograms may have feelings in this world as well, and here they’re not even arrogant prigs like RED DWARF’s Arnold J Rimmer. The future world depicted seems to operate on a caste system, with the surviving humans at the top, the new more obedient replicants below the middle and holograms right at the bottom of the pile.
Replicants are now public, they have ghettoised communities and are allowed to hold down jobs as long as they can handle prejudicial behaviour targeted at them. 2049 explores the original’s issues from alternative angles only possible now a good chunk of time has passed. The group we focussed on in BLADE RUNNER were just criminals on the run, we’ve never before seen replicants just living, making ends meet as prostitutes, farmers, and even in a limited capacity sanctioned by the people in power.
There is a scene in 2049 that is so low-key, even unremarkable, you might not even realise how crucial it is. There’s really only been one debate about Blade Runner, and here they strive to keep you guessing, or at the very least suggest that in the grand scheme of things the answer isn’t that important. That conversation does happen in a roundabout way, but it is what happens around it and the themes that feed the wider story that settles, re-starts and then fuels the debate to rage on anew.
It’s not all about you. I loved the middle finger they flip to the classic “chosen one” storyline here, and the big moments of pathos are sold by Gosling like a champ. Elsewhere, Ford continues his run of (Indy aside) successfully returning to, refining and maturing his best-known star turns and Ana de Armas’ hologram Joi grows far beyond the stay-at-home girl she is satirising. I don’t really want to say any more about the performances lest it leads to spoilers, but I will say that Sylvia Hoeks’ new replicant heavy-hitter Luv is a hell of a lot scarier than Rutger Hauer in his underpants.
It’s sadly a novelty to have a 2 1/2 hour film that doesn’t just become a punishing, endless action set piece. Villeneuve and his talented team know the power of good pacing, of giving audiences time absorb every facet of this world. Even with all the retro-futuristic design elements, this is a terrifyingly plausible future. The remnants of humanity clinging to the dying husk of Earth subsist on vast protein farms, whole swathes of cities are nuclear wastelands or landfill and a wall that wouldn’t look out of place on GAME OF THRONES is fighting a losing battle against the rising seas.
Roger Deakins is such a good match for this bleak-beautiful world. From the opening plunge from the heavens to an endless expanse of sterile white to the Dante’s Inferno lighting of the irradiated old LA skyline and a should-be-trademarked Deakins fight in silhouette, this is the most striking cinematographer in Hollywood’s most awe-inspiring work since the last time he worked with Villeneuve. See this in IMAX if at all possible, just be prepared for the fact that your eyes will sting and your ears will ring from the shear quantity of audio-visual information to be processed.
Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most thought-provoking science-fiction films of the decade, a thoroughly entertaining mystery-thriller, but in the end at it’s core it’s still a simple and emotionally tactile tale being told. Not only does this do Ridley Scott’s iconic original film justice, but it would make Philip K Dick proud. SSP