Blade Runner 2049 (15)
Running time 2hr 44mins
RELEASED at a time when studios could not trust audiences with film titles longer than three syllables (it was a liberal adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Blade Runner had no right being as utterly masterful as it was. Shunned in its day, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi spectacular would eventually overcome commercial failure (and, more perplexingly, critical bemusement), leaving a mark on the genre matched only by Star Wars in its longevity. Of the 30,000-or-so people who saw it back in 1982, every single one of them, it would seem, went on to make a movie – no Blade Runner, no Matrix, no Fifth Element, no Ghost In The Shell.
That same Hollywood paternalism the film did so much to combat – for the first time in years, fantasy cinema was once again dealing with adult notions and philosophical big ifs – has since reasserted itself; many were, understandably, rolling their eyes the minute the mere question of a sequel was raised. Yet Blade Runner 2049 is no mere inheritor of its predecessor’s legacy – in several respects, it goes above and beyond it, expanding the thematic and narrative base of the first movie
in startling new directions. The directorial baton has actually been handed down a generation to Denis Villeneuve, but, with its
photographic scope and lofty technical ambition, this could easily pass as a Scott effort; just as The Force Awakens showed JJ Abrams to be a Lucas fanboy, Villeneuve is quite clearly nothing less than a Blade Runner fanatic, going to gobsmacking lengths in investing 2049 with that distinctive air of grief and mystery.
Which isn’t to say that it’s not its own, distinct beast. Whereas Blade Runner was possessed of a neo-noir cool, all rain-swept
pavements, runaway consumerism and neon night-terrors, 2049 roots itself in the Western genre, spiriting us out of futuristic LA to an altogether more desolate, tragic plane. Scott’s vision of a city in the throes of total dysfunction was already one of the most blisteringly dystopic yet to have imposed itself upon the big screen; like a mad prophet, Villeneuve ushers us, the
congregation, forward into delirium, finding that hallowed metropolis a twisted outpost of civilisation amid a sea of unmitigated barbarism, a lawless wasteland peopled by bandits, slumlords and, of course, by Deckard (Harrison Ford), the first film’s antihero, now in hiding from the forces of ‘order’. He is to meet his match here in the form of K (Ryan Gosling), an android cop on the verge of an explosive discovery. The two’s climactic run-in takes place in a skeletal Vegas, an irradiated clump of high-rises and ramshackle hotels; broken holograms and erotic statues tease longingly of ancient decadence.
But things are no better in ‘safe’ LA, where dead-eyed K holds down a desperately sorry ‘relationship’ with Joi (Ana de Armas), a beautiful simulacrum. One might ponder the true purposeof the city’s crude, militaristic regime – to keep the savages out, or the restless, alienated denizens in?
Gosling is, by all accounts, a worthy successor to Ford, channelling the freaky minimalism that made him so watchable in his collaborations with Nicolas Winding Refn; yet he is but one cog in a most tantalising machine. The soundscape is a disciplined, multi-textured work in need of its own write-up, an ideal complement to Vangelis’ legendary Blade Runner score; its intellectual savvy will no doubt spawn books. But all that can wait another day. Here’s to Blade Runner 2049, a sequel every bit as great as its forerunner – and, dare we say it, occasionally superior.