Ryan Gosling stares a lot in Blade Runner 2049. Whether it’s at nude holographic avatars, his virtual girlfriend or symbolic wooden horses, there’s an awful lot on his mind. He does have a good face though, very charismatic and more than capable of throwing out various nuanced emotions with each steely stare. Gosling plays K, a replicant Blade Runner who questions how human he is and how memories, implanted or not, play a role in his life. These are key themes once again explored in Denis Viellneuve’s respectful and audacious expansion of the world Ridley Scott created in 1982.
The setting is Los Angeles, thirty years after the original and what a world it is. Skyscrapers and holographic avatars overwhelm an urban environment populated by sex, prostitution and virtual companionship. People from all walks of life overcrowd bars and rain continues to lash down keeping the inventor of the glowing umbrella comfortably in business.
Not a lot of time is spent in the city however. Villeneuve intelligently expands the world from the claustrophobic gutters of the original to wastelands, junkyards and an abandoned Las Vegas. Many fans will miss the breathtaking cityscape being all present but this sequel dares to expand. With that comes a fleshed out world that feels grounded and plausible. Much of the outside is desolate but emerging factions, gargantuan landfills and toxic landscapes present a realistic viewpoint of collapsed ecosystems. It’s an ever changing landscape and a feast for the eyes. Every image in 2049 is a work of art.
What impresses most about 2049 is the dedication to improve on the original’s flaws. Blade Runner still holds the greatest vision of a future dystopia, but narratively it did lack plot and featured an unconvincing romance. 2049 has a much better story with a couple of decent surprises and a satisfying ending. Subplots to the central mystery are also interesting, perhaps even more so when Joi is on screen, K’s holographic android girlfriend played by Ana De Amaris. Their developing relationship is a fascinating examination of how human and machine or two AI’s will interact in the future. She’s a hologram that is designed to love you, but what she and K have is very real and human. They do feel love for each other, even if there is an infinite amount of Jois in the world for anyone to buy. I could have easily spent more time with their developing relationship, even if we do get a glimpse at how virtual threesomes would work.
Vangelis is honoured with a tweaking of one memorable track that fans will no doubt lap up like I did, perhaps with a little tear. Speaking of the music, Hans Zimmer steps into Vangelis‘s shoes and powers a positively droning, propulsive soundtrack.
As a sequel to my favourite film of all time, it would be quite astonishing if Blade Runner 2049 was flawless. It’s not quite. At over two and a half hours, 2049 is far too long with two or three scenes that could have been shorter or cut altogether. I also couldn’t quite buy Jared Leto’s billionaire replicant creator Wallace, but as has been pointed out to me, he seems the type of billionaire who may be born as a result of finding fame from the internet or social media, a scary thought.
As a film, Blade Runner 2049 is gorgeous, fascinating and exciting with only minor pacing issues. As a direct sequel to Blade Runner, it’s a natural and intelligent expansion of the world.