Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto.
|"It sure is orange in here."|
Is "belated sequel" a genre unto itself yet? We've had so many in recent years it feels like they could almost get their own category at the Razzie Awards.
But much like reboots and remakes and re-imaginings, belated sequels aren't necessarily automatically bad. For every Mad Max: Fury Road, there's a Tron: Legacy. For every Creed, there's a Dumb & Dumber To. For every T2 Trainspotting, there's a Zoolander 2. For every... you get the picture.
And here we are, 35 years after the original, looking at Blade Runner 2049, which is thankfully more Fury Road than Tron: Legacy. The reasons for this are many, but it comes down to a very sensible approach - this sequel understands what made the original so great and replicates (ahem) those qualities, not in a slavish way (like say The Force Awakens), but in a sympathetic and logical way (like Creed). It recaptures the tone and visual stylings, but also the deeper thematic layers of what it is to be human, the neo-noir-meets-sci-fi mash-up, the slower '80s-style pacing, and the all-too-uncommon trait these days of not treating your audience like idiots.
It's really hard to discuss the plot of Blade Runner 2049 without giving away any of its closely guarded secrets, but it's about a blade runner (a cop) called K (played by Gosling) who hunts down replicants (clones) that have strayed from their original purpose. K's run-in with one particular replicant sets him on an investigation that has the potential to start a war.
It could have been so easy for this to totally suck, but Blade Runner 2049 is damned good. It's a richer experience the more well-versed you are with the original, to the point where I wouldn't recommend seeing it if you haven't seen Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic. A passing knowledge of the original is required, which may limit the audience on this, but let's remember that hardly anyone saw Blade Runner when it first came out anyway (in fact I sometimes get a sense it is one of the least watched of the bona fide post-1980 classics).
The trick with these belated sequels seems to be finding a balance between the old and the new, and Blade Runner 2049 nails that. Bringing back Harrison Ford as Deckard is the most obvious nod to the old (and the film could have felt like a cheap cash-in without his presence), but director Denis Villeneuve also demonstrates a deep understanding of the original's strengths. He gets the look, pacing, style, tone and themes note-perfect - from the lighting to the way the story flows, from the lingering shots and any-era production design, 2049 is cut from the same cloth of the original, which helps it feel like a natural progression.
But the new elements are even more impressive, and most of those come down to the plotting and the evolution of the Blade Runner world. The characters (in particular K), situations, and settings feel like extensions of everything Ridley Scott did. It bears noting that everyone in this film does a great job, but Gosling as K is particularly good.
Perhaps the best example of old-meets-new can be found in the score. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch concoct something contemporary while remaining faithful to Vangelis' then-futuristic synthscapes, which perhaps says more about how pervasive old synths are in modern music that they can sound "contemporary". Furthermore, the sound design (an under-rated aspect of filmmaking) is stunning in 2049.
It's hard to fault the film, although it will always be judged lesser by comparison with the original. It does lose its way towards the end, as if the film is unsure of how to climax, but for the most part it is gripping despite its length (two hours and forty minutes).
In many ways, Blade Runner 2049 is better than it should be, yet it seems obvious in hindsight that it would be as good as it is. It is a studied and intelligent sequel that feels natural, but best of all it feels necessary, which is a mighty feat for a belated sequel.