Blade Runner 2049: spoiler-free review
A question I've been asked, given that Blade Runner 2049 is being released thirty-five years after 1982's Blade Runner, is; do I need to have seen the first film? I believe it will make a lot more sense, indeed it may only make sense, if you have seen the first film. The next question is; which version of the first film? Yes, there are seven. For me, and for Ridley Scott, it's The Final Cut version. So before we talk about the new film, trust me, it's complicated. Other preparations you need to make before viewing Blade Runner 2049 are: get a good night's sleep beforehand, use the bathroom and bring a flask and sandwiches. This film is 163 minutes long.
At the end of Blade Runner (depending on which version you watched), Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) rides off into the sunset with Rachel (Sean Young), a replicant he fell in love with after "retiring" Roy Batty and his mates. Director Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 introduces us to a new Blade Runner named "K" (the name given to police personnel who hunt down and "retire" replicants), played by Ryan Gosling. K is despatched to the desert to retire a replicant farmer (Dave Bautista). While there he discovers the buried remains of Rachel and a new mystery is born. Along the way he encounters other replicants and eventually, his investigation leads him to Las Vegas where Rick Deckard has been living out his life. Together they embark on solving the mystery.
I'm being deliberately obtuse in my exposition because I don't want to give away the plot twists and turns and more importantly, the end.
There is a great support cast including Robin Wright who plays K's police chief and Cuban native Ana de Armas who plays K's holographic girlfriend in an emotive performance. Jared Leto turns up as Niander Wallace who has taken over replicant manufacture from the bankrupt Tyrell Corporation.
Blade Runner 2049 carries on in the same style as the 1982 film. From the cityscapes to the future it projects, the new film creates a believable 2049, darker and more miserable than 2019 (the time period the 1982 film was set). The sprawling metropolis, the single-colour palettes in the desert, the lighting through water and the framing give a real sense of the dystopian future ahead. Kudos to cinematographer Roger Deakins. It also continues the central question of the 1982 film: what does it mean to be human? Are just the sum of our memories? Do humans have souls? There is a lot going on. To it's credit, Blade Runner 20149 does not pander to the audience. It assumes they are smart and can deal with these topics without being spoon fed. There is no long exposition to explain the plot. There are twists and turns and Villeneuve knows the audience are intelligent to keep up.
Seeing Harrison Ford back in action is a joy. He throws himself back into the role he played 35 years ago with gusto and the film is better for it. He clearly has an affection for the character of Rick Deckard who is probably the most enigmatic character he has ever played. For his part, Ryan Gosling makes an excellent addition to the story line as the new Blade Runner. His expressionless face captures the lack of empathy with which he retires replicants. As the film progresses we see a tender side of him with his girlfriend and his struggling to make sense of dreams from his childhood. His closing scenes, with echoes of The Shining are touching.
As a continuation to the 1982 film, Blade Runner 2049 takes the story forward in a thought-provoking fashion while leaving some of the unanswered questions from the 1982 film still unanswered. For example, there was great debate at the end of Blade Runner as to whether Deckard was a replicant himself. Don't be expecting this film to answer that. If you truly want the answer to that, you will need to read Philip K Dick's short story: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? We know they dream of unicorns!
An amazing 4.5 out of 5. This intoxicating film will need several viewings and each will be as brain-twisting and as welcome as the first. I look forward to the next instalment. Hopefully we won't have to wait 35 years!