Blade Runner 2049 review: One of the best sequels ever made..

By HT

There’s a lot to unpack here.
 
Blade Runner 2049 - for better or for worse - is a lot like the original film, and depending on your stance on that touchstone sci-fi classic, this could either be the best news you could’ve hoped for, or the worst. It shares the original’s bleak vision of the future, its pessimism, and its cool, path-breaking aesthetic - but also its frustrating narrative shortcomings, its irritating pacing, and its stubborn ambivalence.
 
It walks along the same dingy alleys, steps in the same dirty puddles, and shakes down the same sort of shady riffraff. It’s lit with the same blazing neon, and it is scored with the nostalgic futurism of the same synth tones. These deliberate references to the original, these knowing echoes from the past, they’re like a long-forgotten dream, remembered with a bittersweet jolt.
 
Like two other recent Harrison Ford films - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Star Wars: The Force Awakens - it acknowledges the time that has passed since the last time we entered this world. Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the events of the first film, in an almost apocalyptic world. The replicants – man-made humanoid machines built to do humanity’s bidding – have evolved at a terrifyingly rapid rate. They can reproduce. And if they can reproduce, the persecuted replicant population reasons, they can rebel. They no longer have a reason to be subservient to their creators. They are the masters of their own fate.
 
Ryan Gosling (back in Nicolas Winding Refn mode) plays K, an LAPD Blade Runner, haunted by memories of a childhood he cannot remember. During an investigation into a replicant uprising, he stumbles upon a long-buried secret.
 
For 30 years, this secret, which has the power to alter the future of sentient life, has been kept hidden. And the key to uncover it, K learns, lies with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, reprising his role).
 
Blade Runner 2049 is a dense film. Perhaps too dense. But so was the original, which was just as comfortable borrowing from the Greek myths as it was at asking the big questions posed in Philip K Dick’s source novel: Who are we? Why are we here? What makes us human? Are we superior to the rest? Do we have the power to create? If we do, does that mean we also have the power to destroy? And the most important question of them all: Do androids dream of electric sheep?
 
It’s all very interesting, and this may be a bit of a controversial stance to take, but I believe that the original Blade Runner is a terribly flawed movie - it’s great, don’t get me wrong, but problematic. For instance, it never really explores its themes to their fullest potential. I’ve always felt that the most intriguing idea posed by Ridley Scott’s origin - more than artificial intelligence, or the inherent hubris of human beings, or man vs machine - was immigration.
 
Remember how the remnants of humanity looked at the replicants? They were seen as scum, rapists and thieves. Total ‘bad hombres’.
 
Now, you could argue that for the sequel to continue this exploration of AI - what with it hardly being science-fiction anymore - would make perfect sense, but I’d counter by saying that in the world we live in, there is no greater danger than our growing fear of the other.
 
But alas, director Denis Villeneuve is still utterly preoccupied with finding humanity where there is none.
 
But how strange is it, and how wonderful, that Villeneuve seems to have decided to only make masterpieces now. Every year, for the past four years, he has made a film others – some of them even multiple Oscar-winners – could spend their entire careers trying to make, and still fail. From Prisoners to Sicario to Arrival, he is perhaps the only modern filmmaker to have come within touching distance of Christopher Nolan. But as profoundly magnificent as Blade Runner 2049 is – and by God is it magnificent – my favourite Villeneuve film remains Incendies. Set aside a few hours for it – a couple to watch the film, and probably another couple to recover – the next time you’re in the mood for a transformative experience.
 
But with this, there can be little doubt that Villeneuve is one of the greatest science-fiction filmmakers ever – right up there with Kubrick, Fritz Lang, and Nolan.
 
But once again, like a lost Replicant searching for home, we must gravitate towards the genius of Roger Deakins. This is – if it is even possible for a man as celebrated as he is – Deakins’ finest hour (or three) behind the camera. For years – decades, even – the veteran cinematographer has pushed boundaries, developed new techniques, and quietly achieved greatness.
 
Things used to be different when he started out, interestingly, only a year after Jordan Cronenweth created a visual language which would be mined for decades to come with the original Blade Runner. And now, armed with his immaculate digital camera, which moves with the majesty of a living, breathing being that is well aware of its greatness, Deakins composes instantly iconic tableaus, hauntingly beautiful images that have the power to evoke strong emotion just by existing. It is a raw, elemental piece of camerawork that’ll be discussed and dissected with equal – if not more – passion as the groundbreaking original.
 
I’m hardly the first person to say this, nor am I adding anything worthwhile to this conversation, but it is one of cinema’s greatest travesties that Deakins’ hasn’t been recognised by the Academy yet. Awarding him his first Oscar, after 13 nominations, would be a splendid way for them to atone for their sins.
 
This is an artist working at the pinnacle of his powers. It is several artists working at the pinnacle of their powers – Villeneuve, Gosling, even Hans Zimmer – they’ve all come together to create something quite unforgettable. But they’ve also achieved the unthinkable: They’ve birthed a sequel that eclipses its parent.
 
Blade Runner 2049 is bold, challenging cinema, an almost Biblical success; like Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, Martin Scorsese’s Silence, and Nolan’s Interstellar, it positively demands multiple viewings.