‘Ave A Go If You Think You’re Dekkard Enough: Blade Runner 2049 Reviewed

Dennis Villeneuve's sequel to Ridley Scott's sci-fi masterpiece is in cinemas now, Mat Colegate takes a look for The Quietus

So here’s the question: Do you like Blade Runner?

It’s not an uncomplicated enquiry. Despite it’s reputation as one of the untouchable summits of science-fiction cinema, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has its share of detractors – This writer has been known to be one of them – most of whom will cite its borderline arrogant prioritising of atmosphere over plot as something from which it never recovers. Of course, this opinion tends to leave hardcore Blade Runner fans completely cold, because that tends to be precisely why they like it in the first place.

So it’s good news and bad news but pretty much all good news then, because the same ‘problem’ that affects Scott’s Masterpiece also affects Denis Villenueve’s masterpiece sequel. This is a head movie: enormous and loud; full of The Big Questions and an almost palpable sense of portent. Blade Runner 2049 takes Scott’s original – itself adapted from a Philip K. Dick novel – and balloons it into monstrous size, sweeping aside any criticism with its sheer heft. It is in the truest sense of the word Awesome.

At the screening I attended – and see this one on the biggest possible screen you can, by the way – a big deal was made about spoilers so I’ll keep the recap brief. It’s 2049 and ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, tasked with tracking down rogue synthetic life forms – replicants – and retiring them. Often forcibly. In the course of his duties he becomes aware of a plot regarding his professional quarry and is swept into a scheme that will, as his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) puts it: “Change everything”. That’s pretty much all I’m going to give away and to be honest there’s not a huge amount more. The stakes have been raised from those of the prequel, but you wouldn’t really know it from the way the film unfolds in front of you. Villeneuve has adopted the same languorous pace as his predecessor and the action occurs with the smoothness of a video game viewed from inside a dream.

This unhurried and unfussed approach reaps rewards immediately. Freed up from having to let exposition do the lifting, Villeneuve can concentrate on letting his and Scott’s vision take priority and it leads to some of the most startling images you’ll ever see in a cinema. The film features moment after moment of heart racing futuristic poetry. Gargantuan megalopoli are rendered down to the tiniest detail, space craft roar through burnt skies like gigantic beasts of prey, enormous 3D advertising hoardings ply their wares through smog corrupted streets. Villeneuve has replicated Scott’s play. This is a film for you to feel and breathe. A futuristic world to spend a couple of hours in.

There are some nifty expansions from the original’s stark template. There are different breeds or replicant now, for instance, and a tantalising sub-plot questioning the nature of an entirely artificial relationship. The world of the original is recognisable but subtly richer. We see locations beyond future Los Angeles – all similarly mind-boggling – and meet some different classes of character, but this is done subtly and tastefully and never breaks up that sanctified Blade Runner atmosphere. Villeneuve knows what the fans love about the first film, and it’s clearly what he loves about it as well.

Performances are minimal and engaging. Harrison Ford, returning as Blade Runner‘s Rick Dekkard is as charismatic and gruff as ever, Jared Leto plays an insectoid asshole with an unsurprising accuracy and Dave Bautista – who I’m really beginning to enjoy watching – puts in a fantastic turn early in the film’s running. However I think I’m beginning to tire of the Ryan Gosling technique of staring at the other characters while looking mildly amused. Pull something else out of the basket, Gosling, you’re better than that.

But none of this matters – not even to a Blade Runner sceptic like myself. This is majestic, stupefying film making. The kind that makes you thankful that you’re alive to witness it. It left me with the same feeling I had when coming out of Mad Max: Thunder Road, a feeling of pure pride that classic sci-fi cinema was coming out in the here and now, able to be viewed in its moment and up-close.

Blade Runner 2049 stands as a staggering achievement of world building, of science fiction, and of sheer visionary film making. Make your chance to see it count. You’re unlikely to see anything else of its mesmerising brilliance any time soon.

Blade Runner 2049 is in cinemas now

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today