The original Blade Runner has proved eerily predictive of many things for its 2019 setting. OK, there are no flying cars or high functioning androids. But the images of smog-choked streets, ruled by mega-corporations and a workforce that is treated as subhuman because of their origins feel very relevant today. And there was, of course, the unfortunate passing of actor Rutger Hauer. Who died in the same year that his character Roy Batty did.
With the first film making a monumental impact on popular culture, and it’s increasing relevance based on unfortunate happenstance I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at the long-awaited sequel to blade runner. Which picked up the story 30 years later and took 35 years to be released.
It’s always difficult making a sequel to critically acclaimed films, especially when they are released so long after the original. But during its release, Blade Runner 2049 was called one of the best sequels ever made. Perhaps even better than the original. But two years on does the sequel still stand as sturdily as its predecessor?
In 2049 old replicants (human-like androids used for manual labour) are being hunted down and killed by newer models. However, when K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant employed by the police to retire other replicants, discovers that a replicant was able to produce a child he begins to tug on the threads of the mystery. Eventually leading to him to the attention of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his nefarious forces. And into the path of former blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
What did I like?
Firstly, Blade Runner 2049 continues the originals trend for stunning visuals. Everything about this movie looks amazing. Whether it’s the set design that perfectly blends the futuristic, the modern and the mythical into a unique world that feels thematically appropriate for the characters and story or the beautiful Oscar-winning cinematography from Roger Deakins. Which makes every frame look like a piece of art. Or the special effects that never once look fake or out of place. Everything in this world feels authentic and organic, doing a lot to tell the story without dialogue.
The cast is also fantastic. Everyone does a great job inhabiting their roles. Making their characters feel like characters and not merely actors reciting lines to you. The standouts are Ryan Gosling, who does a great job inhabiting the stoic replicant K and Harrison Ford who reprises his iconic role as Rick Deckard; even with his comparatively limited screen time, Ford still manages to steal the show.
And like the first film, 2049 also concentrates on both weighty philosophical questions about identity, technology and corporate greed that feel truly relevant to today’s world. But it also incorporates spectacular action sequences. Which makes for a very entertaining and thought-provoking watch. There are some very interesting set pieces and concepts peppered throughout this film which will give you much to think about and remember long after the ending credits. Including, holographic AI and the question of their sentience. Underground replicant resistances and a tense fight scene taking place in a glitching hologram nightclub.
In fact, as its own standalone film, 2049 works quite well. Creating a fully functioning world with some good performance and great philosophical ambitions. While never forgetting to be an entertaining movie.
What did I not like?
However, as a sequel to Blade Runner (1982), 2049 really falls short. With the main problems being the story, pacing and characters.
2049’s story is unfortunately bogged down by lots of exposition. With several characters frequently explaining the plot to each other, something noticeably minimal in the original Blade Runner. And it never fails to draw the viewer out of the experience because of how obvious it is. The story is also rather lightweight because of the lack of significant consequences. For example, we are told that replicant reproduction will break the world. But aside from one scene with the replicant resistance, nothing in the film’s world indicates that our characters actions are having any impact. Lessening the tension of the film’s story.
There are also plot elements that feel extraneous e.g. K’s hologram girlfriend who can almost pass for being human. An interesting concept, but it serves no narrative purpose aside from illustrating that no one is special. Something which is already dealt with when K learns his true origins. This concept feels like padding. Which makes the narrative feel unfocused and causes the pacing to drag significantly.
Lastly, 2049 suffers from bland characterisation. K is a boring lead. He’s stoic and by-the-books, lacking the edge that made Deckard a compelling protagonist. The occasions when he emotionally conflicts with himself are too few and far between to make him engaging. And because he’s a virtually invulnerable replicant, the movie lacks any sort of tension on a character level. But the worst offender of flat characterisation are the villains. Niander Wallace is a typical capitalist with a god complex and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is your typical hard staring badass. Compared to Blade Runner’s replicants who had relatable goals, wanting more time to live their lives, these villains just come across as dull.
Blade Runner 2049 is not a bad movie. The set design, cinematography and special effects are all fantastic. Nothing feels out of place in the world they’ve created, and it makes for very stimulating viewing. Everyone in the cast gives a good performance with Ryan Gosling really fitting the part of K and Harrison Ford doing particular justice to his iconic role from the original blade runner. And the blend of action and interesting concepts will definitely keep you entertained.
The problems come when you begin viewing the film as a sequel to blade runner. When faced with the memorable characters, cinematic storytelling and overall cohesiveness of the original, Blade Runner 2049 really feels like an unfocussed pale imitation.
Rating: (3 / 5)