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

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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

Al­ls­tar/Warner Bros

‘Ele­giac sad­ness’: Har­ri­son Ford and Ryan Gosling in Blade Run­ner 2049.

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