Blade Runner 2049: A Round-Up

With the much-anticipated Blade Runner 2049 now in cinemas, we asked our writers whether it lives up to the hype. 

Mert Kece – 5 Stars:

Blade Runner 2049 is a masterwork of modern cinema. Every aspect of the movie is so meticulously crafted that by the time the credits roll after 240 minutes, the viewer is left speechless, bordering on paralytic, processing every little detailed of what has just been witnessed. From the very first frame, cinematographer Roger Deakins bestows on you shot after shot of bold, awe inspiring imagery, managing to be both visually diverse but also consistent.

Blade Runner 2049, however, is more than just eye candy. Denis Villeneuve crafts a deeply engaging tale full of twists. On its surface there is an excellent thriller set in a rich, fully realised sci-fi future, but the film also operates on a number of thematic levels, exploring similar ideas to its predecessor of what defines being human and the morality of playing god.

The acting is excellent from every person involved no matter how small their roles may. Ryan Gosling continues show his range as an actor, Harrison Ford delivers what may be a career-best performance and Dave Batista shows that he has a real talent. Sound is excellent too. The sound design is immersive and real and Hans Zimmer once again creates a beautifully atmospheric score which perfectly adapts to the changes in mood. Intellectual sci-fi films of this depth and calibre feel like a rarity in the modern cinematic landscape.

Sarema Shorr – 5 Stars:

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 takes us back into the wondrous futuristic neon world of its predecessor. We are again drawn expertly back into a world which has organically evolved from the last. It is a harsher and colder place mirroring the troubles of our own reality. The film is startlingly beautiful from the claustrophobic dense city evocative of bustling streets in East Asia to the cold expanses of a dying Earth. Great care has gone into constructing each detail from gorgeous set designs to new technologies giving a tactile, lived-in feel to the film. The score integrates itself into the soundscape harkening back on previous themes for emotional resonance.

Ryan Gosling plays Officer K, a Blade Runner for the Los Angeles Police Department. In this role he is captivating; through him we discover long buried secrets which makes us question the ideas of identity, memory and what it means to be human. These themes are even more relevant now with the increasing role of technology in our daily lives and the development of complex AI blurring the lines between the natural and synthetic. This is a movie that moves and inspires, drawing so much love from the first but stands out on it’s own as a story that needs to be seen.

Grace Alster – 4 Stars:

No great sci-fi is actually about the science. Sci-fi is about what science cannot change: about what makes us human, or, in other words, what makes us different from machines. Back in 2019, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) found out that robotic ‘replicants’ were more human than he thought; now in 2049 Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant himself, stumbles across a secret that will blur the line even further.

It is this shift, from a human to a robotic focus, which helps make Blade Runner 2049 more than just a money-grabbing sequel. Although tiresome homages to the original film are there, in terms of plot, director Denis Villeneuve turns to new ground putting the personal lives of replicants front and centre.

K’s relationship with Siri-style girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) is especially humanising, providing a welcome change from Deckard’s lone wolf antics as well as an opportunity to show off some of the best CGI seen in cinema to date. Likewise, his interactions with his boss and colleagues are put to good use; their uneasiness around him combined with their reliance on his incredible strength and skill create a taunt atmosphere, wound ever tighter as he uncovers the past and as his obedience falters.

As a result of all this groundwork the pacing does drag in the first half, but it pays off in the final act as the mystery unfolds, every puzzle piece found already in the perfect place. The music is dull (how could it compare to Vangelis’s original score?) but not distracting, with the real effort clearly having been put into the practical effects and CGI, bringing dawn to Ridley Scott’s dark vision of the future. Lingering overhead, views of endless solar fields and urban jungle contribute to the dreamlike tone, along with cryptic references for fans of the book.

Unfortunately, precious minutes are wasted apparently setting up a sequel, with mysterious shadowy figures such as arch villain Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) creepy but never confronted. This undermines the otherwise excellent climax with ruthless henchman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), a beautifully pared down battle amidst the dark night of the sea.
Nonetheless, this is a small mark against the film as a whole, whose slow circuitous storytelling and ambitious visuals create a piece of sci-fi that stands on its own two feet.

Theo Rollason – 3 Stars:

I should preface this review by saying I actually enjoyed Blade Runner 2049. Despite my gripes, the film is actually significantly better than your average sci-fi blockbuster. Its thematic continuity with the original is complimented by some interesting new ideas, the use of CGI is one of the most effective in recent years and Roger Deakins’ camera perfectly captures the metropolis LA of the future and its wasteland extension. And yet this isn’t just any old sci-fi blockbuster. This is a sequel to Blade Runner, one of the best films of its genre (heck, one of the best films full stop). 2049 is a film that oscillates between sublime and – and I really hate to admit this – boring.

2049’s first problem is that it mistakes ‘slow’ for ‘long’. The original film paced itself so as to allow us to live in its neon textures; at times its sequel just drags. It isn’t just that it’s overlong. The original never passed too slowly because its more contemplative moments were filled by one of best scores ever. Vangelis’s iconic soundtrack is remembered for its potent influence on electronic music, but it’s also exceptionally varied – think the Middle-Eastern-styled ‘Tales of the Future, the haunting piano solo ‘Memories of Green’, the Ink Spots-inspired ‘One More Kiss, Dear’. Vangelis’s score was Blade Runner’s soul. Hans Zimmer’s score to 2049, on the other hand, could’ve been made by a replicant. Zimmer ditches Vangelis’s emotive melodic music in favour of derivative ‘bwooooonnnggg’s that are perfectly in accordance with the images but add absolutely nothing to them. That is, of course, until the film’s dying moments, when Zimmer copy and pastes the original theme in an attempt to sentimentalise the whole thing – it’s a cheap shot, at best.

If the original’s music stopped it from feeling cold, the performances it featured positively set it on fire – there was Pris (Daryl Hannah), the manipulative, sexually charged acrobat; J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), the well-meaning but clueless toymaker; and of course Roy (Rutger Hauer), the androgynous übermensch who ends up half naked, covered in blood and howling like a wolf. You just can’t imagine anything of this charisma in 2049. It’s not that the performances are bad per se (with the exception of Jared Leto, overacting but underwhelming as always), just that they feel overly restrained and forgettable.

It lacks the human element that made the original so special, but I do get the feeling that there is indeed a masterpiece lurking somewhere under Blade Runner 2049’s pretty surface. Like the theatrical cut of the original Blade Runner, the sequel could be vastly improved with just a few edits. What a shame, then, that overblown critical response to 2049 has ensured this will never happen.

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