You keep seeing it as social media trend: being asked to post a picture of yourself from 5 years back and now next to each other. Cue a lot of insightful comments like, “OMG I was totes weird back then” over how different you look. Saying that someone looks different from one year to the next is like saying a cat is bigger than a kitten. Time changes our appearance as a certainty, be that through age or social trends. Yet people and films have something in common in here: with enough money, you can make anything or anyone look like their old selves. Looks are easy. Looks are surface and shallow substance. Can you become something or someone again? That is the real question. A long settled father can get his old leather jacket out the closet but can be that same larger than life 19-year-old with an attitude? A film can make a sequel after 30 years; it can bring back its old cast, it can remake its old sets but can it be the same film again? Too often it can’t (Crystal Skull, Independence Day: Resurgence). Today, it can. Blade Runner 2049 is many things but above all else, it is without doubt another Blade Runner and another stunning piece of science fiction.
In 2049, synthetically grown humans known as Replicants are created for the work regular humans no longer care for. One of them is K (Ryan Gosling – La La Land), an LAPD detective/Blade Runner tasked with “retiring” Replicants gone rogue. When a case reveals something impossible, it threatens to change everything.
The biggest problem with any long belated sequel is re-capturing the feel of its original material while still presenting as a modern film. The best thing about Blade Runner 2049 is the way it manages to merge the two together. Some dim smoky streets and markets look fresh out of 1982 with meticulous attention to detail. Even comparable visual shots like city fly-overs may be sharper in resolution but still feel like the same dystopian future setting as the emotive scoring resonates around the images. Yet at the same time, the film utilises present day production values (and a much bigger budget than the original) for the kind of jaw-dropping moments fans would expect like a science fiction blockbuster of this generation. That’s not a case of a modern tech do over as there’s no shortage of creativity on show here from the director of last year’s seminal Arrival. Even smaller moments become standout sequences and the physical sets look as amazing as the visual effects. Although the story is of a different nature, 2049 also recaptures Blade Runner’s tone. Gosling delivers a similar grim and emotional restrained performance to Deckard before him. Ideals of humanity and subjugation are still at the forefront of the story and are extremely well handled. In many ways, this story is a flipped perspective as we see the world through K’s Replicant eyes.
That brings us to the biggest problem so to speak. While it is a fair for any sequel to expect some level of existing audience knowledge, this film is 100% for existing fans only. It is not accessible to newcomers as there are many callbacks with minimal explanation. As confirmed by a friend of mine, seeing it fresh and being confused throughout (admittedly he went in thinking it was a Running Man reboot). That said, the way the story developed and evolved areas of the first film really impressed me. It’s a film that’s less interested on being a continuation and more an expansion. There’s a real strong theme over perceptions of reality through artificial minds driven a surprisingly rewarding subplot between K and his holographic/computer girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas – Knock Knock)... take a moment to consider that K is quiet, socially awkward guy with an imaginary girlfriend. Nerd cultures most relatable protagonist ever? Anyway, the pair accepts they are both artificial but define themselves as real to each other by the feelings they share. If you enjoyed the way 2013s Her explored the practicalities of such a relationship (which I did... a lot), this will equally hit home with you. In fact, a particularly surrogate syncing scene was my highlight of the film. There’s a bit less action this time around but it lands in quick and effective bursts to accentuate moments of the story rather than forming set piees. Most fights or shoot-outs are rapidly done due to the efficiency of the Replicants involved, which makes a particular final showdown all the more impactful for its duration. The film may also be a touch too long, pushing past 2 hours 30 but it’s methodically structured and paced throughout.
There’s one other significant fault that I’m surprised in calling out but there were issues with Harrison Ford’s contributions to the film. Now, I did enjoy him on screen and in particular the whole first meeting between him and Gosling was excellent but at no point did I feel like I was seeing Rick Deckard again. This is Harrison Ford being Harrison Ford in the same kind of lovable way that worked for The Force Awakens but Deckard was meant to be a more sombre and contrasting for him, and he doesn’t recreate that performance here. On the other hand, I have nothing but good things to say about Ryan Gosling in this film. The character suits him perfectly as he conveys the hollow defeated nature of a world that will always see him as a lower class.
Elsewhere, the film has a strong ensemble of smaller supporting roles. While Jared Leto’s blind head of the Wallace corporation feels the wrong kind of artificial, the rest all serve to enhance the film. This includes Dave “Drax” Bautista, Robin Wright (The Princess Bride), Mackenzie Davis (The Martian), Barkhad “I’m the Captain now” Abdi and Lennie “Walking Dead’s Morgan” James (playing it very crazy Morgan).
The film does end with many things unresolved and questions unanswered.... but in this Blade Runner, what the hell did you expect? An credits gag reel before a post-credits coda that ties it all together? 2049 is a respective trip back to a fascinating world with a story that’s just smarter than you think it is. Look out for plenty of Easter Eggs (like the Sulaco from Aliens making an appearance). Most importantly of all, I left wanting to see what happens next should Ridley Scott wish to go there. Whether in 3 years or another 30, there are still more things to see that we wouldn’t believe.