Film Review: Blade Runner 2049: Better than the Original?

The original Blade Runner was one of those films I vividly remember as a kid. It got me interested in a new kind of science fiction movie, very different to the Star Wars trilogy which was ‘the big thing’ of my generation. Blade Runner was gritty, dystopian, sexy and hardboiled. It spawned the generation of cyberpunkers, technothriller fiction, and heavily-influenced anime series like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. It took Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and built upon the themes of what it is to be human, and what are emotions anyway.

Bladerunner2049-350x539The original film was released in the early 1980s. Harrison Ford took on the lead of Rick Deckard when he was bigger than he’s ever been, hot property as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Director Ridley Scott had just completed the first, best and original Alien film. Vangelis provided the haunting musical score and was suddenly a house hold name thanks to his poetic theme for Chariots of Fire. It should have been a film that worked, but it didn’t. The odd, tacked-on Deckard voice overs and a misplaced happy ending didn’t help that Ridley Scott never wanted but the producers insisted be included — and maybe the movie was too different to anything before it, so it didn’t do well in the cinemas.

It did however grow into a cult classic and today is considered one of the best science fiction films ever. I agree with that assessment. Certainly, it is in the Top 5 of my favorite science fiction films of the Twentieth Century. Being too young to have seen it in the cinema, like most people I discovered it later. I was one of those people who helped grow it into a cult film.

Perhaps it is not a surprise that the sequel took 35 years to make. Perhaps this was a good thing. Looking back on Ridley Scott’s other great sci fi movie, Alien, I notice that film had been a commercial success and therefore spawned many sequels. Each installment was progressively worse than the one before, even when Ridley Scott returned to the universe with the train-wreck that was Prometheus (I haven’t seen Alien Covenant as a result). Blade Runner was perhaps saved from all that.

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Into the scene steps Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who impressed me with Sicario (also reviewed on my website) covering the dark side of the dark side of the Mexican Drug War. The cinematography, acting, dialogue, style, story and themes all came together to create a perfect move. When I discovered that Villeneuve was directing Blade Runner 2049, I was extremely hopeful.

I was not disappointed.

In fact, I’m going to go as far as saying Blade Runner 2049 is even better than the original.

The problem with the films I grew up with in the 1980s is that they have dated. The gender roles seem out of date compared to modern standards, the dialogue corny, the pacing way too slow, and the stories unpolished. That doesn’t mean the films from that era aren’t great, just that we’ve moved on. The average movie of today is so much more polished than the best films of thirty years ago.

But that is not the only reason why I consider Blade Runner 2049 the best film thus far of 2017. Villeneuve has remained faithful to the themes, style and visuals of the original film, but updated the world to 30 years later, and expanded it geographically, culturally and technologically.

A fantastic scene is an overhead shot of Los Angeles resembling a grey skin, with cracks. Those cracks are roads and streetscapes and they hum with flashes of blue neon street light. At first, I wasn’t certain what I was looking at, until I realized all the apartment blocks were solar panels. So much was relayed to me about the world in a few seconds without saying anything.

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Harrison Ford delivers one of his best performances ever as the lost and lonely former Blade Runner in hiding. I gained new respect for Ryan Gosling as Officer K, a ‘complaint’ Replicant — or artificial human — who hunts down and kills older models of his own kind. Gosling portrays great emotion from a creature that is supposed to be less than human. Lennie James (Line of Duty) and Dave Bautista (Spectre) have short screen time but make the most of their interesting and unexpected roles.

The real stand out characters in this film come from the women. In many ways it is the women’s stories that are at the heart of what Blade Runner 2049 is about. Ana de Armas is a companion for Officer K, his emotional support as well as his loving partner, but she is also limited in her role for reasons which I won’t go into because it can potentially spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it. Syliva Hoeks is another Replicant, angry at her station in life but powerless to act in any other way than to be ruthless to her own kind. Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror) is another brief role, that of a replicant prostitute, who hurts like everyone else but hides her pain through aggression and bravado.

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All three women are in service of privileged white men who have an expectation of what their women should provide them. The point is made more poignant because the women aren’t human, they have been created, or rather ‘born’ into these servitude roles. This is particularly well highlighted in the scene of a nude holographic Ana de Armas returning to Officer K, but no longer possessing anything that he found wonderful about her at the start of the film.

Society is portrayed as being backwards from the world today, or perhaps it is a reflection of how it is right now. This film almost seems to be a subtle, social comment on the reviled attitudes and actions brought to light in the recent Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey scandals.

But that is not to say I didn’t feel for all the characters but one in this film. Everyone was trapped. Everyone had lost something, or never had what they deserved in the first place. The loss comes across in everything they do on screen.

BladeRunner2019d-2000x1200There was nothing I didn’t like about this film. It’s a detective mystery, with action, danger and suspense that any fan of the thriller genre will enjoy. It’s deep and it’s entertaining, and visually spectacular. Go see it if you still haven’t. It really is that good.

On a final note, Denis Villeneuve has been considered to direct the next James Bond movie. After Sicario and Blade Runner 2049, I think he would be an excellent choice.

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