REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017)

Thirty-three years is a long time to wait for a sequel. But since the true Blade Runner (the Final Cut) only surfaced in 2007 perhaps it is more accurate to say Blade Runner 2049 is only a decade later than the original. Denis Villeneuve, who impressed with the last great sci-fi film Arrival (2016), is at the helm for this grandiose epic. His vision is a 160 minute spectacle which is both dizzying in its various cityscapes but painfully intimate in the confined spaces of characterless flats. It develops the world-building of Blade Runner and deepens its potent questioning of what it means to be human.

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Blade Runner 2049 places itself 30 years after the events of the first film, during which there has been a ‘blackout’ in Los Angeles where all digital records were wiped, including the identities of rogue replicants. Agent K (Ryan Gosling), himself a replicant, is tasked with hunting down the remaining Nexus 8 model replicants. We first meet him as he ‘retires’ Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), who goads K by telling him he can only do his soulless work as he has “never seen a miracle”. A discovery on Morton’s farm provides the thrust of the plot which drives K through the dystopic US and straight into the path of Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Of all Harrison Ford’s recent career re-treads, Blade Runner 2049 has been anticipated with the most apprehension. How could a film enigma which took 23 years to reach a final product possibly spawn a successful sequel? The answer is in the alignment of awesome visuals with intensely personal sequences. For every grand, post-nuclear vista there is a scene between K and his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas). Their relationship is much indebted to Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and the moments where K grapples with his need for her love and impossible intimacy are heart-breaking.

Blade Runner 2049 is a completely worthy sequel to the sci-fi classic and has a claim to be the best film of the year. The audience is left questioning the nature of humanity, each character and the idea of self – when Deckard says in a cracked voice, as a tear runs down his face, “I know what’s real” we share the burning uncertainty which threatens to engulf him. But the film ends with K serenely letting the snowflakes fall around him, accepting his insignificant place in the universe as one of so many different, created beings.

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