Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely superb. It won’t necessarily be for everyone, as at nearly three hours, and being a quite slow paced film, it is a demanding film. Visually, it is remarkable. There are moments that resemble films by Tarkovsky. One scene resembled the end of The Sacrifice, in another there was the standing water that seems to occur in many of Tarkovsky’s films, and, of course, the pace. Tarkovsky’s Stalker is a really challenging (but rewarding) watch. All this alluding to the past, however, is a little disingenuous. The overall aesthetic of the film will dictate the look of science fiction movies for some time.
The film begins with a close up of an eye, in the same way as the original, but the similarity in the opening ends there. Instead of the heavily industrialised LA, it opens out on an open, but ruined expanse. When the Blade Runner 2049 returns to LA, it is obvious how much technology in film making has advanced. We see more of the city around K, rather than it being close shots, and it is impressive. Adverts are all over the place, huge holographs, adverts for Atari, suggesting that this is not our timeline, buy an alternate one where the company has surpassed Microsoft and Apple, as predicted in the first. Colour is used to tell us where we are in the world. The outside world is largely orange, LA is dark, with vivid splashes of colour, but despite this, it seems like an oasis of civilisation. Despite it, and its predecessor not being a close adaptation of the book ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, it feels close to the source material. LA is isolated, and so are its citizens. There is still the idea of high tech filtering down to the streets as shown in the original (and in the books of William Gibson).
The sound is superb. Impacts and explosions are big and heavy and solid. The soundtrack incorporates them to great effect. It also incorporates elements of the original’s soundtrack, to make allusions to the characters. This is where I think familiarity with the original enhances the experience of watching 2049. It does little to explain the events of the first film, and the return of an old character might mean little if you don’t know who he is.
The story has twists and turns that make it unpredictable. Unlike a lot of modern cinema, I really felt like I was experiencing something new – I didn’t feel like I had the journey planned in my head. The dialogue is intelligent and often poses as many questions as it answers (it’s hard to give examples without risking spoilers and, as I went into it fairly blind (but for my knowledge of the original), I think any viewer should.
The cast is solid. Ryan Gosling seems to be wearing a mask, beneath which is turmoil and torment. His only emotional outlet is Joi, a holographic AI. The relationship between them is real, despite it being a fake person with a more fake wife, and Ana Dr Armas is superb as an advanced Siri. Jared Leto as Wallace is fake, pretentious, self important. His external agent in the film is Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), a replicant, who seems to struggle with human emotions. Like previous Nexus versions, she lacks empathy, but seems eager to be human (whilst being disdainful of them). Robin Wright, K’s superior is cold, almost lacking in empathy, as she dispatches him to undertake terrible tasks in the name of order. Of the two women in his life, she is possibly the least human.
As an aesthetic experience, I believe it is unsurpassed. Aurally and visually it is masterful, and should really be seen on the big screen. As I’ve said, Blade Runner is a long film, but like the films of Tarkovsky, the reward is worth the effort. Blade Runner is my favourite film, and I was scared that this would detract from it (like the Matrix sequels utterly demolishing the first), but it didn’t. Is it as good as the first? Aesthetically, without question, and it does share the emotional strength, but it hasn’t knocked its parent off the top spot for me. Yet. Blade Runner improves with repeated viewing, and this may too.