When a sequel to Blade Runner was announced some 30-odd years after the original, the feelings conjured were akin to those of a pisshead ordering a 4am kebab. On one hand, there was an unfathomable amount of excitement because of that one glorious lamb doner enjoyed all those years ago. But on the other hand, such things are rarely as good as memory serves and are often rehashed, reheated and dubiously out of date.
As luck would have it, Ridley Scott was only the Kitchen Manager, sorry, Executive Producer for the long awaited return to the replicant republic. Instead, gourmet chef Denis Villeneuve came to the pass, having previously delivered a range of delights. (Sorry, Bake Off’s on in the next room).
Set 30 years after the titular Deckard (Harrison Ford) retired runaway replicant Roy Batty and ran away with the romantically-involved replicant Rachel, we find Agent K (Ryan Gosling) on the hunt for models both old and new. After successfully retiring a Nexus 6 series skin-job, the accidental discovery of a once-pregnant replicant garners interest from both the LAPD and the Tyrell Corporation in new clothes, the Wallace Corporation.
Of course, this raises questions aplenty: who is the corpse? What happened to the ‘child’? How the eff did this happen? Of course, you know it’s Rachel from the off, but how she got up the duff is the real quandary.
How Agent K kept his mind on the job in hand instead of rubber-necking is a miracle, as the world he inhabits evokes nothing short of an ocular orgasm. Cinematographer and Oscar-winner-in-waiting Roger Deakins presents a world which is at once none-more-black than the original, whilst also as vibrantly palatable as Mad Max: Fury Road. Feeling more Science Fact than Science Fiction, the world of Blade Runner 2049 is convincing, realised and tangible.
As for criticisms of the film’s length? It’s long, but never laborious. Villeneuve invites you along for the ride but offers no fast travel option here. There’s no montage to speed through K’s investigation, no FF to speed up scanning the horizon, and no shortcut to a solution. Like Ridley Scott’s original, there are plenty of grey areas left to keep the theorists interested alongside enough answers to make sure the newbies are sufficiently sated.
Harrison Ford’s Deckard still occupies this grey area with regards to his humanity, with Jared Leto’s Wallace claims to the contrary steeped in his own potential gain. The identity of the child in question also keeps us, and the characters guessing until the final act.
Most importantly, Blade Runner 2049 creates moments which won’t be lost like tears in rain: K’s eye-catching and emotional attack of the 80 ft woman is already advertising IMAX everywhere and the virtual threesome between K, Joi and Mariette is an unnerving work of wonder. As Joi’s face syncs and separates from Mariette’s, all sensuality is lost and all this viewer could conjure was images of when Whoopi Goldberg, Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze went at it in Ghost.
The call-backs to the original are nicely nuanced too; satellite missile targeting systems and drone scanners hark back to Deckard’s photograph scanning which lead him to Zhora. K’s eventual retirement is reminiscent of Roy Batty: accepting of his fate, an artificial human, exposed to the elements.
Returning characters are also used sparingly but effectively. As his former colleague, Gaff shares his thoughts on Deckard’s possible whereabouts but it’s the appearance of Sean Young’s Rachel that nearly breaks the former Blade Runner. Using a de-aging process that makes CGI Grand Moff Tarkin look like The Scorpion King, her reveal is genuine OMG moment.
Finally, this writer’s first word’s on leaving the screening? “Hans f***king Zimmer!” Along with Benjamin Wallfisch, he has created a score which rivals Vangelis’ original as much as pays it homage. It’s a character in its own right: part cold and calculating machine, part human heart beat, it marks Zimmer as the man. As if there were any doubt.
For a sequel to equal, nay, surpass the original is a feat in itself. That the original being bettered in Blade Runner is astounding. More than just a standard upgrade to an old favourite, Villenueve’s film is more Blade Runner than Blade Runner.