Author’s Note: As per usual with a big blockbuster film, every possible care has been taken to avoid unnecessary spoilers. However, people have a different tolerance for spoilers so if you are someone who wishes to avoid every tiny detail or are particularly sensitive to spoilers, this is your advance warning.
35 years. That’s how long fans of the classic sci-fi noir Blade Runner have waited for a sequel. It’s also how long fans of the Richmond football club had been waiting to return to the AFL Grand Final, but we don’t talk about that. We talk Blade Runner here. Bloody Richmond. Where was I? Oh yes.
Blade Runner 2049 is a brilliant piece of science fiction, filled with gorgeous imagery, philosophical quandries and open-ended interpretations. But, and I feel silly having to say this since you’ve all had a very long time to work out what Blade Runner is, I should stress that this is not a sci-fi action adventure romp. This is quieter, more noirish and certainly not a bombastic blockbuster. Apparently some people in my theatre weren’t aware of this yet. So now you know.
Blade Runner 2049 sees a world in even more turmoil than it was in Blade Runner. Most humans have retreated off-world, and any unwanted task is assigned to a replicant – who now lack even the basic dignity of a name. One of those replicants is K (Ryan Gosling), who works for the LAPD as a Blade Runner. During a routine “retirement” at a secluded farm, K comes across the remains of a deceased replicant – an older model, from the Tyrell Corporation, that holds an incredible and unprecedented secret. K is soon assigned to follow up on the discovery, in an investigation that draws the attention of his LAPD superiors, his Creator, Niander Wallace and a cell of rebellious replicants. His investigation leads him to a former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard….
The actors all perform exactly as we’ve come to expect from them in this film. Harrison Ford, returning as Deckard from the original film, follows the trend set by his returns as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, where he pulls of the same classic role but slightly grumpier. Ryan Gosling is charming at times but relatively stoic as K. Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks and Lennie James were all fine, and Jared Leto was his usual larger-than-life self as the eccentric Niander Wallace.
But what is really cool about this movie is the storytelling style and the visual flair. All of this comes down to director Denis Villenueve, one of Hollywood’s best filmmakers at the moment. On the back of recent hits such as Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival, this is Villenueve’s most ambitious film yet and he really pulls it off. 2049 both feels like its own thing and still feels in sync and very much of the same world as Blade Runner. And that’s incredibly hard to do. Even some of the visual cues and background images are well thought out, with some of the same marketing that filled the streets of Los Angeles in the first film returning for the sequel (Atari have done really well for themselves – they have their own building).
There are so many avenues to explore, and there’s no way to do it all justice in a blog format like this. But the film takes so many ideas and runs with them, and it’s all very intriguing – there’s the return of Replicant philosophy, as people debate what the life of these machines actually means. There’s another synthesized life form, the Joi Interface, which seems to earn the ire of even the Replicants themselves. And there’s so many open-ended questions that you could debate it for days.
At least, that’s what it’s like for the majority of the film. The ending is slightly weaker, dropping much of the thoughtful sci-fi for a more action oriented climax. It serves its purpose, of course, and probably makes the film easier to digest than the heavy original, but it’s hard to not compare it unfavorably to the original’s iconic “tears in rain” ending. Unfair, certainly, I don’t compare every film’s ending to that standard, but it is a pitfall of using the brand I suppose.
Overall, this is must watch cinema for any fans of science fiction or of complex cinema, and will fit comfortably next to it’s predecessor in anyone’s collection
4.8/5 – a slightly weaker ending sullies an otherwise incredible movie.