Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”
Roy Batty, Blade Runner
In 1982, after the success of Alien, director Ridley Scott screened his second foray into science fiction. This time he drew inspiration from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and designs by futurist Syd Mead, to create a near future neo-noir world. At the time of release Blade Runner met with mixed critical reception and middling box office return, but since then has grown in reputation and critical acclaim, especially with the release of various edited versions of the film showing a clearer take on the director’s vision. It became one of the cornerstones of the cyberpunk genre, and has since inspired the look for countless sci-fi films, tv shows, anime, computer games, and comics. Now decades later, we finally revisit the world of Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049.
Set 30 years into the future of the first film (yep Blade Runner is only 2 years away) Blade Runner 2049 follows officer K (Ryan Gosling), a member of a renewed Blade Runner unit hunting a new line of replicants (artificially built, bioengineered androids that are almost indistinguishable from humans). His latest case leads K down a dangerous path, one that interests the powerful new genetics corporation of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), one that involves events before the 2022 blackout of information, and one that will eventually lead to a man that once had K’s job, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Villeneuve has made something that is of the world that Scott created, yet entirely his own vision. In thousands of ways he has embraced this future but has taken great steps to not ape the style and just create a film that looks identical. Each shot is carefully considered, and often inverts the style of the first film. So where we were given the intense vista of an Arcology that dwarves all around it and neon lit skylines of the first one, this gives us an airborne view of city sprawl stretching to the horizon. Whereas we are initially bludgeoned with the superb power of Vangelis’ score in Scott’s Blade Runner, Villeneuve sparingly uses sound in many sequences of his film. Scott’s retro-futurism has a tinge of 40s noir, whereas Villeneuve is more of the 60s. Instead of smoke and shadow, we are often given crisp whiteness. There is a consistency of vision between the two works, but they are also clearly separate pieces. It’s a meditation based on the initial work, rather than an imitation.
The themes explored are likewise similar, but different. The issues of identity and humanity are dealt with in 2049, but the question of slavery comes more to the forefront here. It makes us question the actions of Deckard in the first film, and gives us an alternative perspective to the plight of the group of escaped Nexus replicants. To be clear it was one that was already there, made explicit in the rooftop confrontation between Deckard and Batty, but Blade Runner 2049 takes those themes and expands on them.
At times this precision that Villeneuve approaches his task with can be almost clinical, at others it is more naturalistic in its delivery. Gone is some of the bombast of the first (with one obvious exception), yet the result does maintain a strong emotional impact. Gosling gives a very contained performance as K, rarely allowing himself emotional outbursts, yet we can see the struggles and the depth of feelings there. Ford gives the best performance we have seen of him in a while. This Deckard is still a man ground down by life, but one with cause and conviction, despite his sorrows. Leto plays the bombastic Wallace almost to the hilt, but it is also pitched with enough reserve to make the strange megalomaniacal genius compelling.
A worthy sequel, this delivers the awe-inspiring world of Blade Runner, with the technological wizardry we would expect of modern cinema. It may also deliver the depth of meaning that the original did, or at the very least come close. At first blush there are certainly layers to Blade Runner 2049 that are to be slowly peeled away and contemplated. How deep that goes, and how rich that is, is purely the process of time and repeated viewing, but it certainly feels like this film will be up for the task. Zoom and enhance.