Sharp sequel outruns original
OK, it’s hold my hands up time – I wasn’t a huge fan of the original Blade Runner.
Whilst recognising its strengths, that it was way ahead of its time and that it’s a perfectly watchable and hugely influential slice of sci-fi, I just found the film to be slight of story and lacking in true drama.
As a result, my expectations for this 35 years later sequel weren’t as high as those who rate the first flick as a classic; but the presence of Denis Villeneuve – on one heck of a run with Enemy, Sicario and Arrival – behind the camera meant I was anticipating great things.
And boy does the French-Canadian deliver the goods with not only one of the year’s finest, most interesting movies, but that rarest of beasts – a follow-up that surpasses its predecessor.
The original film’s Hampton Fancher teams up with Logan’s Michael Green on the screenplay and the less you know going in, the better you’ll enjoy what unfolds on screen; just know that it’s made abundantly clear that robots have feelings too and that, at its heart, this is a mystery above all else.
Taking the bull by the horns right from the off is lead Ryan Gosling (K) who shines in a very challenging role – which is also his most physical to date – combining inner turmoil with a steely determination to do what’s right.
His touching relationship with Ana de Armas’ Joi is delightfully creative and there’s much more to Robin Wright’s Lieutenant Joshi than initially meets the eye.
Jared Leto’s (Niander Wallace) Zen-like company head is an ominous, little-used presence, but it’s Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks’ (Luv) chilling, relentless enforcer who leads the way in terms of villainy.
Harrison Ford’s Deckard is back and the 75-year-old takes a similar stance to his role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens by adding oldschool charisma and a grouchy tongue in small doses as he steps back and allows his younger co-stars to breathe in a world he helped make famous.
But even if the acting wasn’t so strong, Blade Runner 2049 would still rate as a resplendent gift to the senses. Villeneuve and the digital effects team have built vast landscapes and huge sets that lend the sequel a grandiose scale.
From the scorched, desert-like ruins of Las Vegas to use of haunting fog, shadow, water, snow and, of course, rain, Villeneuve is a visionary working at the peak of his powers.
He delivers on the emotional beats too; who would’ve thought Luv’s destruction of a couple of inches of plastic could mean so much?
Villeneuve also knows when best to utilise Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s haunting, hypnotic score, dropping it out completely for tender moments and a few bruising brawls.
Blade Runner 2049 is weighty, brain-testing, top sci-fi that promises more interesting developments ahead that we surely won’t have to wait another 35 years to see.
Spelling out the future Ryan Gosling stars as blade runner K