Mark Kermode’s verdict on Blade Runner 2049
Stunningly shot and philosophically profound, this sequel is every bit the equal of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic
Blade Runner 2049
The movie has the confidence to proceed at a sedate pace utterly at odds with today’s rapid-fire blockbusters
(163 mins, 15) Directed by Denis Villeneuve; starring Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas
Blade Runner may have shaped the future, but it’s easy to forget its past. Now universally accepted as a classic, Ridley Scott’s future-noir fantasy (from an android-hunting novel by Philip K Dick) flopped in 1982, widely dismissed as an exercise in ravishing emptiness, as eye-catchingly hollow as Rachael, the glamorous “replicant” played by Sean Young. Late-in-theday recuts didn’t help, adding an explanatory narration and dopey happy ending following negative test screenings. Indeed, it was only when Blade Runner was reconfigured via a 1992 Director’s Cut , and later Scott’s definitive Final Cut , that its masterpiece status was assured, sitting alongside Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Kubrick’s 2001 in the pantheon of world-building sci-fi.
No such tribulations await Blade
Runner 2049 , which has opened to the kind of critical adoration that sorely evaded Scott’s original. Yet
Arrival director Denis Villeneuve’s audacious sequel, co-written by original screenwriter Hampton Fancher, really is as good as the hype suggests, spectacular enough to win over new generations of viewers, yet deep enough to reassure diehard fans that their cherished memories haven’t been reduced to tradable synthetic implants.
The action plays out 30 years after “blade runner” Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) gave up chasing down androids and fell in love with one instead. In the interim there’s been a “blackout” – 10 days of darkness that wiped digitally stored replicantproduction records, creating a blank space in humanity’s database memory. Promos for the off-world colonies still burble through the acid rain, jostling for attention amid corporation logos for Sony, Atari, Coca- Cola and Pan Am.
Through this dystopian swamp, Ryan Gosling’s “K” walks in Deckard’s footsteps, tracking down wayward androids and “retiring” them. “How does it feel?” asks Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton, taunting this deadpan hunter that he can only do his job because he’s “never seen a miracle” – an enigmatic phrase that will haunt K (and us) as he attempts to unravel its meaning.
K lives in a poky apartment with his virtual girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), a holographic artificial intelligence who seems to exist in the same world as Samantha from Spike Jonze’s Her. In his post-mission debriefs, K is subjected to a Pinteresque form of interrogative word association that surreally flips the replicant- detecting Voight-Kampff tests previously administered by Deckard. After years of being an unflappable killer, the “Constant K” is experiencing doubts about his job, his memories and his nature. “I never retired something that was born,” he tells Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), musing that “to be born is to have a soul”. Joshi is unimpressed, insisting that in this line of work, you can get along fine without one.
Such existential anxieties are at the heart of Villeneuve’s movie, which has the confidence to proceed at a sedately edited pace utterly at odds with today’s rapid-fire blockbusters. Mirroring and inverting the key themes of its predecessor, Blade
Runner 2049 swaps unicorns for wooden horses while retaining the visual grandeur that fired Scott’s film. From vast landscapes of grey rooftops and reflectors, through the rusted shells of post-industrial shelters, to the burned-ochre glow of radioactive wastelands, cinematographer Roger Deakins conjures a twilight world that seems to go on for ever. Bright candy colours are restricted to the artificial lights of advertising and entertainment. Architecturally, the production designs evoke Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari , all angular lines and expressionist shadows. Elsewhere, we encounter statuesque nods to Spielberg’s AI:
Artificial Intelligence , along with a selfreferential homage to Kubrick’s The
Shining , outtake footage from which was incorporated into the original release of Blade Runner.
The sights are staggering, yet the real triumphs of Blade Runner
2049 are beautifully low key. Carla Juri injects real magic into a heartbreaking, dream-weaving scene; Sylvia Hoeks rivals Rutger Hauer as Luv, the ass-kicker with terrifying tears; and Ana de Armas brings three- dimensional warmth to a character who is essentially a digital projection.
Narratively, Fancher and co-writer Michael Green pull off a remarkable narrative sleight of hand that leaves the audience as devastatingly wrongfooted as Gosling’s cosmic detective. As for Villeneuve, he teases away at the enigmatic identity riddle at the centre of Scott’s movie, brilliantly sustaining the mystery of a blade runner’s true nature (“It’s OK to dream a little, isn’t it?”) while chasing the spirit of Philip K Dick’s electric sheep.
Composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer dance around memories of Vangelis’s themes, creating a groaning, howling soundscape that occasionally rises in horrifying Ligetilike ecstasy. The first time I saw Blade
Runner 2049, I was overwhelmed by its visuals and astonished by its achievements. On second viewing, a sense of elegiac sadness cut through the spectacle, implanting altogether more melancholy memories. Both times, I was reminded that Blade
Runner editor Terry Rawlings had described Scott’s original as “a grandiose art movie” and marvelled at how perfectly that phrase fitted Villeneuve’s new dreamy vision. How’s that for a miracle?
More film reviews overleaf
‘Elegiac sadness’: Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049.