Review: Blade Runner 2049 is slow and indulgent, just how fans like it
- Credit: Alcon Entertainment, LLC/Stephen Vaughan
Ridley Scott's ground-breaking 1982 sci-fi classic complete with dystopian Los Angeles and Vangelis' electronic score finally gets its eagerly awaited sequel, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and it's been worth the wait, even if it's a little style over substance.
Blade Runner 2049 (15)
It's still raining, after all these years.
The 35 years later sequel is a decidedly tricky proposition, an itch you know you shouldn't scratch. What do you add? What do you keep? And where in all this do you find a point?
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In revisiting the world of Deckard and replicants and it's-too-bad-she-won't-live,-but-then-again,-who-does, the filmmakers have given us new characters, new sights and a satisfying new storyline, while really just rehashing the original. It's an upgrade certainly, but still a copy; a very superior skinjob.
This is clearest in the choice of music. Shortly before its release the original score by Johann Johannsson was dumped in favour of one by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch that largely rejigs the first film's Vangelis soundtrack.
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Just like Ridley Scott's classic, its impact is primarily visual. Cinematographer Roger Deakins had the biggest challenge of anyone on the film: how to make something fresh when every other sci-fi film of the 35 years has copied the Blade Runner look. Deakins expands and updates the world beautifully with a succession of overwhelming images, but there are still plenty of moments when it looks like a high brow version of Ghost In The Shell.
Blade Runner 2049 harks back to the original, it isn't the 1982 Blade Runner, the sci-fi thriller that was a box office failure; it's the dreamy arthouse Blade Runner that Scott refashioned it into over the years.
For his sequel, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (on a roll after Prisoners, Sciario and Arrival) has gone straight to the Director's Cut. It is slow and quiet and indulgent, far more than any other film costing this kind of money and not directed by Christopher Nolan would be allowed to be.
The assumption is the affection for the original will allow them to get away with this, but this may be a problem when the young'uns wander in expecting some kind of futuristic action flick. For them it will be like looking at very beautiful paint dry.
The film's great addition is Ryan Gosling as the new Blade Runner. This time there is no ambiguity, we know he is a replicant. It suits Gosling: he's a leading man persona, covering an enormously resourceful actor.
It's a new character, so strictly speaking he isn't stepping into another man's shoes, but there's something almost indecent about how much at home he makes himself.
His semi-profile looks perfect set against the futuristic skyline. LA is his kind of dystopian city backdrop. You wonder if you really need Harrison Ford at all.
He looked grumpy and decrepit in the early publicity photos. A 75 year old man has every right to a bit old, but surely a 75 year old movie star would have someone take care of him to make sure he doesn't look his age in pre-publicity shots, unless he'd upset everyone involved. This time though he's back with dignity, though at times Deckard seems like an onlooker.
There's a euphoria around this release, a thrill that it isn't terrible but something worthwhile (that, say it softly, it isn't the film you feared Ridley might have made) that means people are possibly overboarding it. I'm not sure how much substance there is beneath the surface.
Not all of the new characters work though: Jared Leto gives us an impersonation of Tyrell from the first film and Sylvia Hoek is aggravatingly bland in the villain role.
I remember seeing Blade Runner the week of release, when most people were still describing it as boring, and being awed by it, thinking it was the most amazing sci-fi film since 2001. Over the years though I tired of it, began to see the joins, and the images began to lose their lustre. And this is the point of 2049: it's Blade Runner for people who are tired of watching Blade Runner.