Blade Runner 2049 review

IMG_0535Here are my thoughts on Blade Runner 2049. I will be staying clear of major plot spoilers as this is a movie that you need to go to see knowing as little as possible.

Like the 1982 original this one opens with a text crawl to get us up to speed with what replicants are and what a Blade Runner is. But also we learn what happened between 2019 and 2049. Basically there was a “blackout” of electronic information a few years after the events of the first movie. And this was accompanied by even more ecological collapse.

Just for good measure we then get a close up of an eye staring back at us. Yes indeed, this is Blade Runner.

It’s worth mentioning the first sequence of the movie featuring Ryan Gosling’s character, Blade Runner K, confronting Dave Bautista’s fugitive replicant Sapper Morton. I think this is a reworking of a scene that was in an earlier draft of the first movie where Deckard sits in a farmhouse in the country waiting for the farmer to return home. After “retiring” the farmer the Blade Runner detaches the farmer’s jawbone where a serial number is stamped, revealing that the farmer was a replicant. This scene certainly seems to be inspired by that one.

Without going into any detail at all K discovers something that will lead him, and others, on a quest to find former Blade Runner Deckard.

Back in dystopian Los Angeles K goes home to Joi (Ana de Armas), the perfect wife/girlfriend. It turns out she is an AI companion who appears as an intangible hologram. She’s just a product, a bit of software, but she certainly seems to have a connection to K and he to her. Elsewhere in the movie it is asked if a replicant can have a soul. Joi got me wondering if an AI can have a soul. Everything she does for K is completely selfless. Is she just software? Or is there something more at work?

We also meet what are essentially the villains of the piece, Niander Wallace played by Jared Leto and his enforcer Luv played by Sylvia Hoeks. Wallace has taken over the Tyrell corporation and the production of replicants, but as it says in the trailer he can only make so many. What if there was another way to make replicants? But he’s a nasty bit of work, quite happy to dispatch a newly created replicant on a whim.

Luv I suppose is the Roy Batty of the piece, a constant presence dogging the heels of K as he looks into the case which seems to be bleeding into his own past.

He recounts a memory from his childhood. Might it be an impant? Later he finds himself in the same place as the memory. Might the memory be real after all? Is it his memory or is it someone else’s?

It was heavily shown in the trailers so It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that K will eventually find Harrison Ford’s Deckard in an abandoned Las Vegas. I’ll mention one scene in particular that impressed me. K finds himself being pursued into an automated show with a holographic Elvis Presley appearing and disappearing, in silence and then momentarily with sound. Other dancers and musicians appear and disappear. It’s an impressively unsettling backdrop to the pursuit.

Gosling is pretty good in this. It’s an understated performance, appropriate for the character he’s playing, but with moments of unrestrained anguish.

The movie is quite simply visually stunning. At times it was almost overwhelming how much detail there is on the screen. There are many moments where I knew I was probably looking at cgi but it was totally photorealistic. For example K follows a lead outside Los Angeles to an area that is basically an endless junkyard that goes on for miles in all directions. There are large segments of ships that have been broken up for scrap and overturned domes which may once have been the dishes of radio telescopes. It is completely convincing.

(One aside. Thanks to the original movie of Blade Runner I became a big fan of Philip K Dicks novels. And I particularly liked the cover art that the British artist Chris Moore produced in the 1990s featuring Blade Runner inspired futuristic cityscapes. At times when watching Bade Runner 2049, especially the Las Vegas segments, it struck me that I could be watching a movie of some of those book covers.)

I’ve also got to mention the sound design. There is an almost constant unsettling hum accompaning the visuals, part music part vibration. Try to see the movie in a cinema with a decent sounds system.

I’m really very glad that the movie turned out not an action movie. Looking at some of the trailers I was a little concerned that this would prove to be Blade Runner, The Action Version. But director Denis Villeneuve has kept things very much in keeping with the tone of the original. It’s a character driven piece.

The movie with credits is an eye watering 163 minutes long. If you chop the credits off it’s still 152 minutes long.

And word this weekend is that the movie is perhaps underperforming. Part of me thinks that was always going to be the case, a sequel to a 35 year old movie that a lot of today’s audience won’t have seen, a long running time, not much in the way of action, or indeed humour. Actually it would be very appropriate that the movie would flop just like it’s progenator and perhaps find an audience in years to come on DVD and blu ray and on a streaming service, just like the original found it’s audience on vhs in the 1980s and 1990s. Time will tell.

But it would be a shame if the movie flopped as so much effort has gone into making it. You’d like to think intelligent and thoughtful movie making would be rewarded. Plus word has it hat Villeneuve was set to make a version of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune next. I’d hope that would not be jeopardised by an underperforming Blade Runner sequel.

In the meantime you probably won’t see as an intelligent movie in the cinemas this year, so go check out out.