The best sequels continue and expand upon the themes and characters introduced in their predecessors. Blade Runner 2049 not only does just that, but immerses us in a world that’s at once familiar and yet disparate from the one depicted in Ridley Scott’s film.
It would be easy to have simply had a new Blade Runner tracking down another bunch of lethal replicants, but this brilliant follow-up is a lot smarter than that.
Much has transpired in the 30 years since the apartment door shut on Deckard and Rachel. An event known as the Blackout has left Los Angeles even more dirty, desperate and dystopian. Most have vacated it for the off-world colonies and industrialist Neander Wallace (Jared Leto), having solved the food crisis, has appointed himself successor to the now collapsed Tyrell Corporation, creating obedient replicants as a workforce. The remaining Nexus models continue to be hunted down by Blade Runners like Officer K (Ryan Gosling), who, while on a job, uncovers a long buried secret that will have shattering ramifications not only for the replicants, but for K himself.
“Familiar faces and beats from the first movie are crucial to the plot and not mere fan service”
How Deckard (Harrison Ford) fits into this discovery is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. The kind of plot twist usually reserved for a final act is revealed in the opening scene, and what follows is a masterful detective story at heart – a mystery as layered as an onion that consistently defies prediction, drip feeding its revelations so they pay off with maximum impact.
The term ‘visionary’ is frequently overused when applied to filmmakers, but not when describing Denis Villeneuve. His moody, austere style imbues every artistic frame with an eerie quality, as he extrapolates on the nature of memory and humanity raised in the original. In some aspects, this is as much a companion piece to Arrival as it is a sequel to Blade Runner.
Familiar faces and beats from the first movie are crucial to the plot and not mere fan service. Original writer Hampton Fancher (together with Michael Green) delivers an ingenious, revisionist version of Blade Runner lore, and even the casting pays subtle homage. Dave Bautista’s hulking replicant evokes Brion James’s Leon, and Sylvia Hoeks – as Wallace’s icy assistant – is as severe as Sean Young’s Rachel. Jared Leto overdoes it as the delusional god of biomechanics, but Ryan Gosling delivers some of his best work since Half Nelson as the introspective K. He’s the tragic figure at the heart of a bleak epic where morality fades to grey.
When Blade Runner was released in 1982, it wasn’t what audiences were expecting – nor indeed wanted – from the director of Alien and the star of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and took its time to be recognised as a masterpiece. Blade Runner 2049 follows suit as the most unconventional event movie in recent memory – it’s as far removed from today’s cookie-cutter blockbusters as the original was at the time. However, there’s no denying it’s an instant classic of the genre – something remarkable and completely unexpected that will surprise even the most diehard Blade Runner fans, and continue to reward on repeat viewings.
In cinemas: October 5, 2017
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve