Blade Runner 2049 (No Spoilers or Plot Points Discussed.)

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So, is Blade Runner 2049 better than Blade Runner?

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To be fair to this film you should judge it on its own merits rather than comparing it to the original, which is justifiably considered to be a masterwork of sci-fi cinema. The thing is though that Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t want to be considered in isolation; it isn’t a new story building/cashing in on the world created by Ridley Scott’s classic, it is a proper continuation that only works if you have seen its predecessor. Unlike Scott’s latest Alien films, that feed off but unsteadily stand separately to what came before, it is impossible to appreciate this without holding it up against part one.

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The good news is that Blade Runner 2(049) is is very very worthy follow up. More than any of Harrison Ford’s other belated sequels this feels like a creative endeavour rather than a commercial one (I love The Force Awakens but let’s be realistic) and like Blade Runner it is an exemplary example of how stories can be told in this medium. So measuring the movies together, this is more epic and more sophisticated than Blade Runner but it isn’t as groundbreaking. It is more fairytale like yet somehow less poetic, more painterly but not as beautiful and more involving but less imaginative. Is it better than Blade Runner? No, not overall but there is absolutely no question, if you liked the original you have to see it.

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Good as it is Blade Runner 2049 isn’t even the best work of director Denis Villeneuve. I was actually more excited about this film because of him than I was because of its pedigree. I’m not one of those who has held Blade Runner up as an untouchable classic for the last three decades and for this reason I am confident that my judgement here can be objective. For years I was labouring under the foolish idea that it was over rated and it is only recently that I have come to properly appreciate it. Villeneuve has enjoyed an incredible run of films recently and in just four years has cemented himself as one of the most exciting artists working in Hollywood. This film, for all of its vision, doesn’t quite reach the heights of Sicario or Arrival. Crucially though Villeneuve knows how to tell a story cinematically and Blade Runner 2049 is an exquisite blend of narrative and imagery. If you have seen the trailer you’ll have had a glimpse of the movie’s stunning design and even though it is hard to do something new in this sense, certainly a lot harder than it was in 1982, it succeeds in this respect far more than something like the new Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy or even Avatar. This is a dirty, crumbling, lived in world but it is breathtaking to look at. It isn’t enough to throw some impressive visuals up on the screen though, it all needs to be supported by a compelling plot. Here the film succeeds far more than Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar and significantly, considering who’s work we are revisiting here, Prometheus. 

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In some respects watching Blade Runner 2049 is reminiscent of Chinatown. We get a detective on an apparently routine job who quickly realises he has stumbled into something huge. There are secrets here that as a viewer you long to have revealed and it is this more than the pretty pictures that keep you glued to the screen. The film is perhaps a little long, you get the impression they are not planning another Blade Runner film so they had to get everything into this one, but at no point in the huge two hour and forty five minute running time does it drag. 

Villeneuve’s cast are also good. It has to be said that Ryan Gosling is becoming a little too Ryan Gosling and no longer has the rawness that he had in Drive (a few of his expressions here are unfortunately a little bit La La Land) but he is more than up to the task of carrying the film. Harrison Ford is also strong in a relatively small part where he is actually playing his age. There are a couple of other faces returning from the first Blade Runner and their moments are satisfying but it is the new supporting players that leave the greatest impression. Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks probably give the best two performances despite being practically unknown.

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The final verdict then? Well, you walk on a knife edge when you make sequels to much loved movies but this new Blade Runner has very sure footing.

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It also answers that other question; it seems androids don’t dream of electric sheep.

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The Ripley Factor: 
On the surface of it there are a few things the film gets wrong here. One of the main female characters is only really there to motivate the male lead and another is one of those high kicking action women that have become a real trope in the last twenty years or so. There is also some unnecessary female nudity. The one thing you have to learn from Blade Runner though is not to judge things by how they appear on the surface. Despite this essentially being a tale of two men, women actually play a very significant part even if some of them are synthetic. (For more on this as a concept see Ex Machina.)

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Is this one for the kids?
The film is rated 15 and the kicking and punching done is with consequence and no small amount of bruising. There are also a couple of surprisingly brutal killings but these need to carry some power so the blood is justified.

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