The word “influential” doesn’t come close to describing Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, his 1982 sci-fi based on the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. So any director approaching a sequel could be forgiven for feeling trepidation, although the French-Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve is arguably the right man for the job. His English-language features Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and last year’s sci-fi warm-up Arrival, are bold and inventive pictures.
The director has asked reviewers politely to not reveal any plot details for Blade Runner 2049, set 30 years on from the original. What can be said is that Ryan Gosling plays Officer K, a “blade runner” whose job is to eliminate “Nexus-8” replicants – the lifelike bio-engineered humanoids that went rogue in Scott’s movie. With Robin Wright’s lieutenant on his case, K is put onto a decades-old mystery that leads him to hunt out missing fellow “blade runner”, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
This is just the barest outline of a dense plot, sketched out by Scott and Hampton Fancher, who wrote the original, and Michael Green. Once again, themes of what it means to be human – set against a rain-soaked, smog-choked Greater Los Angeles – loom large. Impressively, Villeneuve has resisted the temptation to turn Blade Runner into something modern audiences might crave; at 163 minutes, it’s methodically paced, with action arriving in short, sporadic bursts.
The production design by veteran Dennis Gassner and Roger Deakins’s is simply stunning. Villeneuve and his team have been careful to plug the sequel into the DNA of the original, while reinventing where necessary. From the filthy cityscapes to sleek modernist interiors, it’s a film of wonderful contrasts. One moment, where burning embers from flames melt into the skyscraper lights, was absolutely exquisite.
Married to minimalist performances from Gosling, Ford and a support cast that includes Jared Leto and the striking Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks, alongside a splendidly bone-shaking score, it makes Blade Runner 2049 a towering artistic achievement. Proof positive that intelligent science fiction can be made, that Hollywood still has the guts to make epic-scaled blockbusters with brains not brawn, this is a worthy successor to an iconic movie.
Blade Runner 2049 opens in cinemas on 5 October. For more information, visit: www.bladerunnermovie.com
1. Still from Blade Runner 2049.