BLADE RUNNER 2049 is the sequel to science fiction, neo-noir, BLADE RUNNER (1982). The original film (set thirty years before the sequel) told the dystopian story of an overpopulated Earth where human beings had spread to off-world colonies and synthetic humans called Replicants were now doing many of the worst jobs that natural humans shunned. In the world of 2019, an advanced group of Replicants known as Nexus-6 models had gone rogue and escaped into Los Angeles. They needed to be captured and destroyed; a man called Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an ex-cop trained to hunt Replicants, was tasked with that job. The nickname for those hunters was “blade runner”.
In BLADE RUNNER 2049, society has continued developing more sophisticated Replicants. The LAPD’s Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a modern day blade runner. He hunts down and retires older model Replicants. The movie begins with his mission to find and kill one called Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). The evidence K turns up at Sapper’s farm disturbs K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), who orders him to cover-up the loose ends this new evidence causes. Joshi’s efforts attract the attention of the rich and powerful manufacturer of Replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). He is an unbalanced individual who sets his own powerful Replicant employee, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to the task of watching K. As K proceeds to follow Joshi’s orders, he turns up leads and people who connect back thirty years to the life of Rick Deckard.
Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER was a ground-breaking film in 1982. It didn’t do great business at the box office, but in the years following its release, it became a cult film that redefined the science fiction genre and the popular view of a technology-dominated society. In countless subtle ways, in popular culture and our collective imagination, BLADE RUNNER influenced how we thought about our future. That certainly wasn’t the intention of Scott when he adapted Philip K. Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Expecting to do anything more with a movie than connect with an audience and make money is a fool’s errand. Any film that becomes a noted cultural artefact like BLADE RUNNER, does so largely by chance. Any filmmaker who takes on the task of creating a sequel for such a movie is signing up for a daunting challenge.
French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s recent successes with SICARIO (2015) and science fiction film ARRIVAL (2016) gave some hope that here was a filmmaker with the skills and intelligence to take on the BLADE RUNNER universe. And to some extent, Villeneuve, and writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, have fruitfully extended the vision and reach of the overall franchise storyline and mythos. (Yep, it’s a franchise now, folks, count the product placements.)
In its best moments, this sequel asks questions about the nature of humanity, the existence of the soul and our purpose in being alive. These thoughts are most potently echoed in visually stunning moments shot by veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins. There are gestures and expressions from characters and images and locations, that evoke memories of the first film. This is where BLADE RUNNER is a gift, the foundational dreamscape that the sequel evolves from. At these times, the new film is beautiful and has impressive thematic depths.
There are also times when the story is confusing and nonsensical. And frankly, the psychopathic evil elements that run through the major plot-line are utterly cliched and unconvincing; all that is missing is villainous, cackling laughter. There are also some crass choices in the violent imagery and a constant return to the naked female form (actual, holographic, statues etc.) that doesn’t seem to serve a larger narrative purpose. If you want to see a naked man in this film, you only have some glimpses of Gosling, which, let’s face it, will make some people very happy, but the question remains: what are you saying with all these nude women, Mr Villeneuve?
Overall, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a solid sequel to an iconic original that will provoke further and fervent discussions among established fans of this universe and will win over new ones. Running time, 163 minutes. (7/10)
Note: Darran’s AccessReel interview with the Sylvia Hoeks who plays the lethal Luv is here.