So naturally, when I heard there was going to be a sequel, my first thought was “Please don’t suck!” I honestly would have been heartbroken if this film was terrible. But after hearing that it had the same director as Arrival (which is an awesome film by the way), I had a lot of hope for it. And thankfully my prayers were answered – it didn’t just not suck, but actually surpassed my expectations in a lot of ways.
So unlike a lot of sequels from old films that are several years old, Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t try and change the story of the original, but expand upon it, carrying on similar themes. Set years after the first one, the Tyrell Corporation is out of business and replaced by the Wallace Corporation (Wallace played eerily by Jared Leto), which have created new versions of Replicants. Previously, as established by the first film, Replicants were android replicas of humans created for off world work – but after a rebellion were declared illegal on Earth. Blade Runners were a special police force designed to “retire” Replicants (so you can literally make a ‘One day to retirement’ joke here!). In the original film, Deckard (Harrison Ford) fell in love with a Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young), and the film ended with them running away together to an unknown fate. At least depending on what cut you saw.
Set in 2049, the main protagonist is K (who I can’t help but think is a reference to Philip K Dick, the writer of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which inspired the film) a Blade Runner that, in a neat twist, is actually a Replicant that hunts other Replicants. This makes him despised by both the Replicants he hunts AND the humans he works for. However, he takes on a case that turns everything he thinks he knows upside down. Turns out that a Replicant gave birth to a baby, which was thought to be impossible. Wallace wants this information himself as he has been unable to replicate this. And wouldn’t you know it – Deckard is the father and Rachael was the mother! So begins a journey of cat and mouse as K has to find the child before Wallace does – little realising that he may be connected to this in more ways than one.
So as with Blade Runner, the themes of slavery and humanity ring true here. In Blade Runner, it was a question as to whether Replicants actually could be considered ‘human’, even though it was entirely possible for them to have memories implanted in them. Blade Runner 2049 reveals that Replicants can give birth the same way as humans, which sort of proves that they are living creatures in their own way! Of course, the humans don’t want this getting out, because if Replicants are considered equal it could lead to war (shades of the American Civil War are somewhat represented here). I really enjoyed this story – it added an extra layer to the mythos of Blade Runner without really contradicting anything from the first film. It did also lead to one important bit of information, which I’ll get to later.
Ryan Gosling plays K and I found him absolutely incredible to watch. As a Replicant he’s supposed to be detached from emotions, but every so often things break through to show a human side. It’s an understated performance, but amazing. I haven’t really seen much Ryan Gosling stuff, by I was very impressed here. It was a similar performance to Deckard from the first film, whilst being interesting enough to stand out on his own. Of course, he gets to play off Harrison Ford, which was a thrill in it’s own way. Deckard here is a bit more embittered than when we last saw him – but it’s not surprising giving everything he’s been through. Ford is as captivating as always and has a ton of emotional depth.
Actually, whilst we’re on this subject, that was one of the strongest things about this film – something which I also found with the first Blade Runner. The best moments aren’t about the things that are said, but what aren’t. And that rings true here. A single look from a character here says more that dialogue and it keeps a nuanced tale throughout. Amplified with the music it adds a real tension and emotion to the piece.
A couple of other actors of note go to Sylvia Hoeks as Luv – the femme fatale Replicant working for Wallace, and Jared Leto. Luv, despite her cuddly name, is anything but lovely. She will kill you if she has to and she does it in some of the most brutal ways possible. However, there are some interesting moments where, despite showing no remorse for her actions, she does feel the emotion – even shedding tears whilst killing at one point. It made her a little more interesting than the typical ‘dark action chick’ trope, although she certainly filled that role well. And as for Wallace, Jared Leto was really good in this role – there was a certain creepiness behind his character that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. He had a certain dark nonchalance about him, almost biblical in statue – considering himself a god and his Replicants angels. He certainly was a lot more crueller than Tyrell – who was a businessman and engineer at heart – but he wasn’t in the film enough for my liking.
The set pieces invoke the same Sci-Fi dystopia that the first film did, creating a landscape that had been brought to the brink of extinction and trying everything to stay alive. There are a few lighter scenes compared to Blade Runner that helped counterbalance the dark metropolises. The areas look and felt run down, crowded and yet epic in scale. Adding in the music that was intense and robotic, it created a serious tension. The music even tried to emulate Vangelis’s theme – though it was a little too loud and in your face sometimes. The special effects were very well done though, including a couple of hologram shows that looked like they were ‘crashing’ and failing to catch up. And there was a scene where a hologram tried to sync with the movements of a human that looked pretty darn creepy in it’s own way. All in all, the effects added to the film without detracting from it.
What I enjoyed about this story is that I was actually able to follow the plot pretty well! It’s not an overly complicated plot, but the runtime made it feel dragged out. I actually felt the film was a little too long for my liking, but the ending more than made up for it. A bit of editing wouldn’t have gone amiss here. But that that’s a common complaint I’ve heard among reviewers.
Another complaint I’ve heard about the film has is it’s ‘sexist’ portrayals of women. A lot of the time these complaints are somewhat exaggerated, or they are from people that haven’t actually seen the film, so you have to take them with a huge pinch of salt. To their credit, I’ll admit that there were some scenes that were a bit much. For example, a giant holographic image of a naked women plays throughout the city – don’t the advertisers know that children live in this city? Plus there were some statues of women on their knees looking ready to – ahem – accept something. That was a bit much for my liking. And then there was the story of K having a ‘virtual wife’ that seems to be only there to please him. However, that I will defend. I saw this as more a representation of K’s loneliness and desire to have someone love him, considering he was a loner. The rest of the stuff, I can take or leave it. At the end of the day, if people get upset that Gal Gadot didn’t shave her armpits in Wonder Woman, it shows that people will always find things to moan about, regardless how good a job people do. You can’t please everyone!
I’m getting off track here, so lets get back to it. I want to quickly talk about my favourite bit of the movie – and this I think was a VERY clever move! As you may know from the first Blade Runner, there was a theory that Deckard himself was a Replicant – and indeed left many clues throughout the film. This one doesn’t give any closure to that – but it DOES add another trail of thought. Wallace drops a bomb to Deckard that not only was he a Replicant – but he was pre-programmed to meet and fall in love with Rachael so as to give birth, as part of a play for Tyrell. However, Deckard refutes this and we don’t get a definitive answer. It makes the whole thing ambiguous enough for fans to draw to their own conclusion. I’m glad that they didn’t give a proper answer to this, it’s always good to have a bit of mystery.
So all in all, Blade Runner 2049 was a technical achievement in cinema. Overlong running time aside, this is a sequel that expands the story without ruining or convoluting the pre-established lore. But if you haven’t seen the original, don’t worry, this works very well as a standalone film. If you’re not a fan of loud music though, be warned – the level is crushingly loud at times. But in conclusion, this is a great Sci-Fi film that isn’t so much style over substance, with deep, meaningful themes that draw you into it’s dreamlike world. Whether a fan of the original or new to this franchise, it will satisfy your eyes and your mind.
Blade Runner 2049 gets a 4.5 out of 5.