Review: Blade Runner 2049 | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Blade Runner 2049

Film Editor Patrick Box reveals whether Blade Runner 2049 measures up to thirty years worth of hype


Last December the first trailer for Blade Runner 2049 was released. In response I wrote a lengthy piece about the significance of the original Blade Runner, and the dangers facing a sequel 35 years after the fact. After a lot of rambling, I came to the conclusion that what would make-or-break Blade Runner 2049 would be whether it could forge its own identity and escape the shadow of its predecessor. What makes Blade Runner 2049 an unmitigated masterpiece is that it has succeeded wholeheartedly in doing this. The film has managed to do the impossible: serve as an engaging and intelligent followup to its predecessor whilst simultaneously taking the world in a unique direction.

Set 30 years after the first Blade Runner, we follow new-age Blade Runner KD6-3.7 (Ryan Gosling) a specialised detective tasked with hunting down bio-engineered humans known as replicants. A replicant himself, Officer K’s world is thrown into disarray after a routine encounter on a Protein Farm leads to a potentially world-changing discovery. As K attempts to solve this long-buried mystery he unravels a conspiracy centring around the disappearance of former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Where to begin?

For starters if you’ve seen any of the film’s footage you’ll know it looks incredible. Whereas Ridley Scott’s original film was rooted in the dark twisted labyrinth of Los Angeles, rain-stricken and perpetually soaked in darkness, Villeneuve and DP Roger Deakins have taken a sharp left-turn. Yes, the scenes in Los Angeles are still dark and rainy, but the muted half-lit interiors of the original have been swapped for harsh, sterile, fluorescent-bathed buildings. Whereas the first film was about hiding the truth, this film is about dragging it into the light. Much of the film also takes place outside Los Angeles, and even more of it during the day.

Whereas the first film was about hiding the truth, this film is about dragging it into the light.
Here Villeneuve and Deakins have taken great pains to expand the world in ways that believably exist alongside the city-scape of the first film. Much of California has given way to bleak protein farms owned by the Wallace corporation: Mechanical superstructures jutting out of a barren landscape. San-Diego is now an enormous landfill, where wreckage is stripped in sweat-shops for recyclable starship parts. Most striking of all, Las Vegas; a futuristic Gomorrah rendered abandoned by nuclear holocaust. A burnt-orange hellscape, the polar opposite of 2049’s Los Angeles. Frankly Deakins deserves the highest praise for his work. Countless times throughout the film I found myself struck-dumb by individual shots that may as well could have hung on the walls of an Art gallery.

But this time around the visuals of Blade Runner 2049 are there to aide the story telling not to take its place. As to be expected with a film directed by Denis Villeneuve, plot holds a much greater primacy than it did in the original. A sprawling tale, of almost biblical proportions, drives the movie. K’s mission imbues the film with a captivating agency that barely falters over its two hour forty-three minute runtime. Action sequences do come but, with the possible exception of a single scene, they never feel forced or tacked on. Reflecting the style of Villeneuve’s  previous work, these sequences are short, sharp, and brutal.

Plot holds a much greater primacy than it did in the original
Guns are fired, explosions are triggered, Spinners crash but they don’t drag on or chew up more than a couple minutes of runtime. They’re simply the inevitable outcomes of K’s journey. If you’re being pedantic, certain scenes may drag on a fraction longer than is necessary but nobody could ever accuse the original of being a breezy watch. In fact this emphasis on plot makes 2049, at the very least on first viewing, a much easier and more enjoyable experience than the original. However for all this originality, the 1982 original is required viewing especially as the film enters its third act. Otherwise you’ll likely feel the you're being left behind.

It’s no mean feat that the cast appear in no danger of being overshadowed; the strength of their performances ensures this. Ryan Gosling gives potentially the best performance of his career as Officer K. Many reviewers have suggested it’s just a spin on his standard stoic formula seen in Drive and Only God Forgives. In truth this performance is much more complex. To the world K plays the role of dutiful appliance, for the benefit of his superiors. But to us we see that in his private moments he is desperately human. As K’s investigation unfolds the real tragedy of his life steadily becomes clear to us, culminating in a sequence that only a real robot wouldn’t find heart-breaking. Whilst the film is K’s story, Deckard’s highly advertised role cannot be ignored. Without spoiling anything, what 2049 does is manage to make Deckard much more of an engaging presence than he ever was in the original. Ford gives in a performance much more complicated than we had any right to suspect.

Ford gives in a performance much more complicated than we had any right to suspect
At 75, and something of a cranky joke on the talkshow circuit, he is still able to remind us why he became such a success in the first place. And for those who wonder if questions of Deckard’s humanity will finally be answered, well…

The rest of the performances are excellent. Ana de Armas easily gives the most ambiguous performance of the film and I don’t dare to say more. Sylvia Hoeks is excellent as ice-queen replicant Luv, starting cold-and-collected but seething with murderous fury as she dog’s K’s trail. Dave Bautista has somewhat constricted screen-time but sells every second of it, whilst Robin Wright as chief of the LAPD, and K's handler is a welcome presence. Her relationship with K is fascinating. She affords him some bemused affection, but to her he's an appliance, a hyper-lethal vector to point at a target. The only actor who may cause consternation is Jared Leto as Replicant constructor Niander Wallace. Whilst featured heavily in promotional material his role is surprisingly sparing. His empty postulating and rabid scene-chewing will definitely cause some eyes to role but I found his performance in keeping with the character: a man who believes wholeheartedly in his own genius and grandeur that he’s blind to the fact the world is already moving on without him. 

Ana de Armas as Joi easily gives the most ambiguous performance of the film

But does Blade Runner 2049 have anything interesting to say? It’s predecessor dealt with themes and ideas around humanity previously never explored in cinema. Luckily 2049 avoids comparisons by focusing on tangential concepts rather than just aping the first film. K knows he’s artificial so the question isn’t wether he’s human or replicant it’s wether he can find a way to view himself as more than an appliance. He spends much of his life alone, dreaming that he is important in someway to someone somewhere. This loneliness sits at the heart of Blade Runner 2049, with multiple characters enduring both chosen and forced isolation. The world of the future has forced people together into a claustrophobic existence but divided them along lines of class, wealth, gender, and humanity. Multiple viewings by much smarter critics than us will undoubtedly pick apart everything the film explores, it’s a credit to returning scriptwriter Hampton Fletcher that he has managed to make lightning strike twice. However, to me, the film’s primary theme is spelled out early on: K muses wether or not only things that are born have a soul. The film’s unpacking of this is much more complicated than a simple yes or a no. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Blade Runner.

VERDICT: Comparisons with the original are counterproductive. This film is a different beast entirely, and successful because of it. Villeneuve, Fancher, and Deakins have created an instant masterpiece with some of the best visuals committed to film to date, an emphasis on story-telling, brilliant performances from the newer cast-members, and a commitment to ideas that expand upon rather than reiterate the original. It’s impossible to say whether it has surpassed the first (for some it will for some it won’t), but it has effortlessly matched it. Regardless, I doubt there will be a better film this year.

Rating: 10/10


If Indiana Jones had a kid with Han Solo, I'm the guy who sat behind him in school.


7th October 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

Collider and IMDB