by Benjamín Harguindey
Based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) reshaped the way movies think of the future with its iconic blend of noir pulp and dusty science fiction. Thirty-five years later we’re finally getting a sequel in the form of Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve and produced by Scott. How goes?
Villeneuve is the ideal director, if nothing else, because he’s a terrific director. He didn’t prove his chops by making a masterful science fiction thriller (Arrival, 2016) any more than he did by acing the action thriller (Sicario, 2015), the crime thriller (Prisoners, 2013) or the psychological thriller (Enemy, 2013). He is above all a craftsman of atmosphere who finds the right style for the right movie and delivers on suspense and intrigue even when working from a weak script. He’s that good.
In many ways, Blade Runner 2049 is your ideal sequel, using the original film as a starting point rather than wallowing in it. The film has been clearly inspired by the 1982 classic – or at least any one of its multiple different cuts – and takes most of its ideas from it, expanding them in different directions while telling its own story. This is the genuine article, featuring none of that “soft reboot” skullduggery where the same story is told anew while the original cast gives its blessing in passing.
The year is 2049 and the Tyrell Corporation has gone bankrupt; its line of replicants (synthetic humans) defunct. The older rebellious Nexus models are still being hunted though. As the movie opens we catch up to our titular “blade runner”, Officer K (Ryan Gosling), as he tries to bring in one such miscreant. Subsequently K unearths, quite literally, a hidden trove of secrets that reopen a cold case harking all the way back from 2021 – the events of the first movie – and eventually leading to the search for legendary blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Eventually is the right word. Blade Runner 2049 is a slow crawl across a weirdly structured narrative, less like the (comparatively) streamlined procedural from 1982, which tracked the parallel rampages of a criminal and the cop hunting him and his crew down, and more like a hypnotic stream-of-consciousness that is barely contained by the generic tenets of crime or sci-fi.
The dingy Chinatown-esque underbelly of L.A. remains intact, as does its seedy “Cityspeak” population. Shot in perpetual nightfall, only the vast neon ads and dancing sexy holograms light up the streets. Beyond the city there is nothing but an orange, Martian-like desert where the colossal ruins of civilization taunt the wandering K with echos of mortality. And then there is the refurbished Tyrell Corp., a repository of sharp, lifeless angles and disquieting alien geometry.
Shot by Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 is above all a visual feast, a movie of luscious, richly creative imagery in the service of an awesome, mystical atmosphere. Everything in the movie seems to be speaking for its characters and somehow also threatening them. It’s a hostile world out there, so much so that it’s almost as if it’s daring to be challenged.
Gosling is a good leading man, and an effective gumshoe: lonely, pathetic and with such an underdog attitude that he makes his little victories here and there feel like losses. He’s joined by a holographic waifu named Joi (Ana de Armas), who sure acts doting and loving, but then that’s what K has paid for. K has been fraught in true PKD spirit, an object of pathetism and paranoia who starts by questioning the reality around him and ends up challenging his own perception of himself. Multiple times.
Though billed second, Ford awaits at the third act, and isn’t it a nice change that he foregoes his gruff shtick and actually commits emotionally to the character. Jared Leto shows up for a couple of scenes of grand soliloquy as the new head of Tyrell, but leaves little impression. All the more interesting and detestable is Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the ruthless replicant in his employ. Not that any of them make a dent on Roy Batty.
Moody, hypnotic and startling, Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful film and a worthy successor to a cult classic. It doesn’t just earn an immediate spot as one of the best sequels ever made, but a damn good movie on its own.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).