It was always going to be a tricky proposition to craft a sequel to Ridley Scott’s divisive 1982 film, Blade Runner. By divisive, I mean that while it has gained a cult following in the decades since its initial release, the film’s initial box-office run resulted in a gross that many would label ‘disappointing.’
Stuck in development hell for well over 20 years, Blade Runner 2049 as it’s now known entered the hands of sci-fi aficionado Denis Villeneuve since 2015. But has a wait of over three decades been kind to the finished film?
Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner tasked with tracking down old replicants for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years.
Visually, Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute masterpiece but from the director of the equally stunning Arrival, this was to be expected. Tasked with taking the first film and crafting a worthy sequel was never going to be an easy ride for Villeneuve and he almost makes it out the other side unscathed, almost.
Our cast is one of the film’s strongest suits with Gosling in particular being as magnetic a presence as ever. It’s also nice to see the wonderful Dave Bautista sink his teeth into something a little grittier than his well-worn Drax persona. Unfortunately, despite being an ever-present feature in the trailers, Harrison Ford is disappointingly underused, though he does appear in 2049’s best sequences.
The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, there really is no other word for it. Bizarrely grounded in reality, the year 2049 is a place that doesn’t feel too far away from the world as we know it. Villeneuve’s metropolis’ live and breathe right before our very eyes with a desolate Las Vegas in particular being a highlight, bathed in an eerie orange glow.
The CGI too is staggering and some of the best seen in the genre. Holograms litter the cityscapes and detail pours out of every frame – Blade Runner 2049 has been meticulously crafted to an incredibly high standard by someone who clearly cares about the legacy this film will leave.
Elsewhere, the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is exquisite. Blending nostalgic tones with a modern edge, the music is one of the film’s high points and couples with each frame almost perfectly.
So, to look at and to listen to, it’s spectacular. But how does the rest of this sequel fare? Well, not too bad at all really. The story feels linked to the first film in a way that doesn’t tread on its toes. Many long-awaited sequels feel it necessary to shred what came before and try far too hard to craft their own paths. Thankfully, 2049 honours its predecessor in more ways than just sickly nostalgia.
Unfortunately, it’s far too long. At 163 minutes, this is a real slog by anyone’s standards and while it’s true the pacing is spot on, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a long film and feels it. It would’ve been pretty easy to shave a couple of minutes from the run-time here and there, though it’s not too much of an issue.
My only other bugbear is a pretty big one. Ridley Scott’s ’82 masterpiece was a film that had a soul, despite its plot focusing on those to the contrary. Here, the sheen, the glitz and the polish are all super impressive but much like the replicants our blade runner must hunt, it all feels a touch soulless.
Ultimately, Blade Runner 2049 is a fine sequel to a film that’s been crying out for one since 1982. Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford make a fine pairing despite the latter’s limited screen time but what this film is lacking is heart, and that’s something that can’t be made with stunning cinematography.