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Film review: Blade Runner 2049

Film & TV

Thirty-five years is a long time to build expectation, but Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s cult classic is more than worth the wait.

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This much-anticipated sequel satisfies on every level. Visually stunning and philosophically thought-provoking, Blade Runner 2049 builds on the original without being hampered or intimidated by the now-iconic nature of its source material.

This film delivers a near-perfect combination of science fiction and art-house cinema.

Villeneuve is no stranger to taking classic sci-fi themes and creating something far richer and deeper than anyone expected. In a similar way to his elevation of the themes of Arrival to something far more thoughtful and emotionally complex than a simple alien invasion story, in Blade Runner 2049, he explores artificial intelligence and the nature of the soul.

In the 30 years since we followed LAPD’s Rick Deckhard (Harrison Ford) on his mission to “retire” renegade androids or replicants, the weather has become wilder, with rising sea levels and smog as thick as fog. San Diego is one enormous landfill and Las Vegas a radioactive wasteland.

Now the task of hunting down replicants is being carried out by a Blade Runner of their own kind, officer KD6-3.7 or “K” (Ryan Gosling) under the command of Lt Joshi (Robin Wright). K accepts his replicant identity and the artificial nature of his computer-generated girlfriend (Ana de Armas) but this film delves deeper into these issues than the original, exploring the existential concerns of androids and holograms and what seems to be their innate desire to be human.

During a routine mission to locate and retire an early model Nexus-8, K makes an earth-shattering discovery that has the potential to forever disrupt and reconfigure the power imbalance between humans and their android slaves.

The short life-span of the replicant under-class guarantees their submissive status but the evidence K uncovers threatens this status quo. Fearing the potential for rebellion, Joshi orders K to destroy it but he disobeys, returning to the site and uncovering a clue that links back to the characters from the original film, including Deckhard and Rachel (Sean Young).

In a further link to the original, the mega-corporation responsible for the original replicants, Tyrell Corporation, went bankrupt and is now controlled by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), a reclusive genius obsessed with the potential for replicant technology to become self-reproducing.

Despite these thematic links, viewers need not worry if they haven’t seen the original. The sequel stands on its own feet and would be just as impressive without any previous knowledge of the first film’s plot or themes.

There is a great deal to say about this film. The production design by Dennis Gassner and cinematography by Roger Deakins are absolutely breathtaking at both macro and micro levels. The score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer provides a kind of aural soundscape with a nod to the original soundtrack by Vangelis.

Villeneuve clearly references Scott’s style and atmosphere yet makes this Californian dystopia his own.

Despite its blockbuster marketing, Blade Runner 2049 sits comfortably in the same genre of art-house sci-fi as the original. Gorgeous composition, thoughtful long-fuse pacing and philosophical themes with just enough action to keep viewers on their toes; I feel I’m not exaggerating to claim this film will be considered a masterpiece of the genre in years to come.

Thirty-five years was not too long to wait for a sequel of this calibre.

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