Blade Runner 2049 is smart, interesting and very languid
Blade Runner 2049 (R13)
163 mins ★★★★½
When rewatching the original Blade Runner (1982) in anticipation of the most-heralded movie event of 2017, one is struck by several thoughts.
Principally, there is a disorienting sense that what you're watching is more familiar from the myriad cinematic moments imitated in subsequent movies – from the Vangelis synth soundtrack and rain-drenched dystopia to the soaring cinematography across its night-time cityscapes.
You also notice how optimistic director Ridley Scott was 35 years ago, when envisaging the technology we might hope to see in 2019 (the year that Harrison Ford's Deckard first hunted replicants on the big screen). Granted, characters make video calls (albeit only using payphones), but we've nearly caught up time-wise and I'm still waiting for someone to invent a domestic step-inside hair-dryer.
Thirty years on, Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is an LAPD-employed blade runner, tasked with "retiring" the older model replicants who provoked rebellion in times past. He stumbles upon a cold case mystery which his boss (Robin Wright) wants silenced, but which deepens into a rabbit hole from which he cannot climb out.
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As it turns out, the first rule of discussing the new Blade Runner is to not say very much at all. With a well-written plot which pairs professional duty with personal yearning, the clever intricacies are best left for the viewer to discover. But since the second rule of the new Blade Runner is its fans already know who they are, it must be said that you should not venture into 2049's near three-hour run-time until you've watched its forerunner.
To this end, the thrills of celebrated director Denis Villeneuve's (Incendies, Sicario, Arrival) gorgeous update derive largely from the evident reverence shown to the source material. Hans Zimmer's soundtrack lands smartly somewhere between Vangelis-esque and the motifs of Villeneuve's regular collaborator, Johann Johannsson, and the world-building so emblematic in the first film is expanded here, with dimly lit rooms, shimmering water shadows and Villeneuve's trademark golden hues.
The writing team, too, seems like an astute choice: old-timer Hampton Fancher, one of the original writers on Blade Runner, whose subsequent writing credits have mostly revolved around that title, and younger-bod Michael Green, who birthed more contemporary action dramas Logan and Alien: Covenant.
But as to its pace, be warned: Blade Runner 2049 is no modern-day action-thriller, and its rewards are instead delivered by being smart, interesting and very languid.
Apart from our male leads (Gosling is terrific and Ford shows more emotion in his dotage) and the contemporary powerhouse that is Robin Wright, the cast comprises mostly unfamiliar faces, hailing from Cuba, Hungary, Sweden, Somalia and even South London.
The women are suitably strong and beautiful, and although there are a few too many nude female figures on display, the story's sexual content is intellectually interesting in its rendering, but too tricksy to evoke either sexual or emotional feeling. (At least there's no dubious, squirm-inducing "love scene" like they did it back in 1982.)
Villeneuve has taken the double-edged sword of the update and created a Blade Runner 2049 worthy of honouring its ancestor, while bringing it appropriately into the mid-21st Century.