If you want to create a feeling of dread among movie fans, tell them that a classic movie is getting a sequel. While there will be some murmurings of excitement because they’ll get to return to a world they’ll love, mostly they will think someone is about to ruin something they hold so dear. It’s happened many times before, we unfortunately think about weird aliens and Shia LaBeouf when it comes to Indiana Jones instead of whips and cool action, and we’re always afraid that it will happen again. And with Blade Runner being the definition of a cult classic, we were all terrified that Blade Runner 2049 was going to be complete rubbish. But were we right to be afraid?
K (Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine) is part of a new age of replicants who are slaves to humanity. He ‘works’ as a Blade Runner, retiring old model replicants. However when he discovers the remains of a dead child born from a replicant, he ends up unearthing secrets that could cause a war between humanity and the artificial lifeforms.
The movie calms down any thought that this may be misjudged in the first few minutes. After the text crawl which explains everything that is going on, I would normally moan but this movie is long enough without scenes updating us what happened in between the original and this one, you are plunged back into the dystopian world that you didn’t feel could be replicated in the modern age. Firstly, it’s the sound. This movie sounds incredible. I think we were all concerned when Vangelis didn’t return for this movie and that there was some turmoil over who was doing the sound with the composers being changed halfway through but thank you Hans Zimmer for the stunning soundtrack you eventually gave us. It perfectly replicates what they did in the original but doesn’t sound like they just ripped it off. What Zimmer does here is make this future which isn’t that far away, 2049 is as far away as 1987 which was when Michael Jackson’s Bad came out so I hope I made you feel old, seem like a completely alien planet. This sound is so unsettling that you never feel safe on this world, which is exactly what the movie wants.
And the same goes for the visuals. The original Blade Runner still looks incredible to this day with some of the most intricate and stunning model work ever put to screen. The smart thing this movie does is while it doesn’t repeat doing models, like any movie would do that in this day and age, it tries to replicate it with the computer visuals. That avoids this movie looking drastically different to the original and instead just making it look even better in my opinion. Los Angeles looks as miserable as ever despite being so much more advanced than us and when the movie decides to go the wreck that is 2049 Las Vegas, oh my god. It is simply stunning to look at this movie and I’m really glad of the slow pace then as it just allows me more time to look at all the visuals that director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) puts on the screen. It may be the best looking film of 2017 and that is saying something.
I think the biggest worry going in would be the director would misunderstand why Blade Runner became a classic. It wasn’t just because of the visuals and sound but because of the thoughtful deep plot and intricate script. And with the idea of humanity being very wary of an artificial race of people, it could easily be turned into a not very thoughtful action film. Luckily, Villeneuve knows we are here for the script. Well ten of us were. This film did not do well at the box office. This is a movie about how the human population reacts to another race that could soon become equal to them. Basically, they panic, make them slaves and make them hunt themselves down at the slightest threat of a rebellion. Go have fun with your think pieces with that. It’s an intense story to take in and it will take a few viewings to completely understand it which will put some off. But it’s so deftly woven with twists revealed at the exact right time and everything just working so well. It’s a movie that wants you to think and does it without being pretentious about that at all.
I do feel a bit sorry for Ryan Gosling in all of this though. He has to be the guy to hold this massive movie down and some how he manages it. His role is a recipe for disaster as he is a replicant and one that has basically got all of his emotions removed to prevent him from going awol and destroying eveything. And yet it works. This is mostly because of the relationship he has with digital girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas, Hands of Stone). It’s very Her, but it is what humanises K. He is the only person that he seems human with and that’s just another brilliant layer in a film full of brilliant layers. They have so much chemistry and it is painful that they are unable to touch because Joi is just some holographic pixels. Yes, this movie is so good that it makes us care about a romance between a robot and some pixels. That’s amazing, especially when you consider that you could cut Joi from the story and nothing much would change in the main plot.
The only issue is another character that you could completely cut from the plot and lose very little, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club). About every hour or so, he shows up, makes a vague speech that the writers are hoping will be as iconic as Rutger Hauer’s speech at the end of the original, it won’t be, and then disappears and is forgotten. It is very easy to blame Jared Leto for the weird performance because he is Hollywood’s punching bag right now, that’s what happens when you send your cast mates used condoms, but I’m not sure what different he could have done with this role. It is a guy who thinks he is god, it deserves the sort of performance Leto does. But when he barely factors into the plot of a movie that is getting close to three hours long, expect people to tire of it very quickly.
Blade Runner 2049 probably doesn’t match up to the original but then not much does. What this movie does is get far closer to the quality of the original than anyone of us thought possible. It has the sound, it has the visuals and it has the plot. It is a truly astounding work and one that makes sure Denis Villeneuve is known as one of the best directors currently working. Yes it is long and is definitely not a popcorn movie but it’s worth all the time you have.