Blade Runner 2049

by Toby Woollaston

br2049It can’t be an easy task following up one of the most iconic films of all time.  Despite many millennials who decry the slow pace of Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner, there is no denying its place in cinema’s pantheon.  It is a film that almost single-handedly brought about the modern sci-fi noir genre with a stunning rendition of Phillip K Dick’s dystopian novel. Its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, does not break from Dick’s existential treatise on what it means to be human and explores his pessimistic world further with a new set of characters.

As the title suggests, the film is set in 2049, thirty years on from its predecessor and focusses on Ryan Gosling’s character, a replicant (biologically artificial human) known only as “K”.  Working for the LAPD to hunt down illegal replicants, he stumbles upon a case that contains evidence that is oddly connected to his own artificial past.  It prompts K to investigate his own background; Are his artificial memories actually real? Is he in-fact human? The search for answers leads him down dark alleys filled with shady characters, wrong turns and misinformation—arriving eventually at the original Blade Runner’s protagonist, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford who turns in a surprisingly nuanced performance.

At one point K’s senior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) comments “We’re all trying to find something real.”  It’s a seemingly throw-away comment, but nails Blade Runner 2049’s central thesis—at what point do we become a real human?  However, unlike Scott’s first Blade Runner, which critiques this subject matter through a haze of provocative ambiguities, Villeneuve’s film is, unfortunately, a little too obvious in its exposition.  Despite this, there is plenty to love about Blade Runner 2049’s style which allows ample opportunity to sit back and soak in the film’s visual and audible splendour care of music by Hans Zimmer and cinematography by the great Roger Deakins. Deakins, who is probably the greatest cinematographer working today, could frame a polar bear in a snowstorm and still deliver colour and depth. Here, he has done a wonderful job working around what must be the constant bugbear of cinematographers today; digital effects.  With 2049, he has worked his camera among the digital fakery with aplomb. It doesn’t have the heft of Scott’s pre-digital original, but it’s the next best thing.

Blade Runner 2049 falls short of the masterpiece that was envisaged. It is a very clever film but doesn’t capture the mystery and ambiguous wonderment of its predecessor.  And although it’s difficult not to make comparisons, 2049 feels like a replicant of its original … which perhaps is quite appropriate given the subject matter.

You can see my published reviews here.