It’s thirty years after Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael (Sean Young) drove off into the sunset or awkwardly began their origami business together in a dingy apartment block, depending on which edit you watched. Since then, new replicants that are even harder to distinguish from humans have been created, and one of their number, K (Ryan Gosling) is responsible for hunting down the last of the previous Nexus 8 generation.
Blade Runner: 2049 is an apt successor in both its strengths and weaknesses. Like the 1982 film it uses ponderous dialogue to explore the nature of humanity and constructs a fully realised, rich future society that is totally immersive and believable thanks to flawless special effects and superb attention to detail.
But as in 1982, the visual splendor and atmosphere are used to paper over some rather large cracks, chiefly weak characterisation and flimsy plotting. This makes both films hard to connect to on an emotional level, and their slow first halves an endurance test to sit through.
2049 begins on steady ‘soft reboot’ ground, with scenes which mirror beat-by-beat its groundbreaking predecessor. With around an hour to the end it finally gets interesting when it finds its own identity, ironically at the time Deckard re-enters the story. At this point the plot gathers the required momentum to propel itself over the finish line, something the original never really acheives.
Also improved is the fact Gosling’s K is able to show more emotion than Deckard did, making it easier to invest in. The relationship between the two becomes the film’s great strength and saviour. Both are likeable and enjoyable to watch together.
Less compelling is Jared Leto’s Wallace, effectively filling the Tyrell role from the first film. He sits in his creepy castle and speaks like a comic book villain. Tyrell felt like a tech billionaire who was obsessed with his work. Here Leto is more like Dracula.
But the film’s biggest flaw is its not-so-casual sexism, the likes of which I haven’t seen in a mature mainstream film for some years. It betrays a lack of confidence in the story when naked ladies need to be stuffed into every other scene. It’s no surprise women are staying away.
The interesting questions around humanness are somewhat undermined by K’s possession of a holographic sex slave (Ana de Armas). She apparently possesses emotions, but exists only to love him and can be turned on and off at will. Her this is not. It’s a great irony that the sequel to a film so ahead of its time seems to embody such dated social attitudes.
But in spite of this, the film’s expansion of Ridley Scott’s world is worth watching. Seeing more of this rich future is one of the most pleasurable aspects of the film (unless you’re desperate to see tits). The purpose is clearly to lay the groundwork for sequels, and make Blade Runner the franchise it never was. But based on box office takings so far, that groundwork may be wasted effort, in which case the film’s unanswered questions will remain just that.
Highly flawed, but often stunning, Blade Runner: 2049 is a fitting sequel, which is both a blessing and a curse.