Blade Runner 2049 is excellent. My bladder forgot it was 2 hours 48 minutes long.
It looks ravishing. And the performances are pretty much all excellent, though Jared Leto as the Head Honcho of the Big Bad Corporation is a bit of a stereotypical baddie. There’s a bit of digital reconstruction of one character from the original film which does not stray too far into the ‘uncanny valley’ and is way better than those in Rogue One, for example.
The plot is fairly lightweight once you stop to think about it, but in my view it’s fairly essential to have some knowledge of what the first film was about (on a range of levels). There are a lot of visual references back to the first film and the odd line. It also references a lot of other films, both genre and non-genre. The producers obviously wanted a film that would keep fans talking about it for the next 35 years, and they’ve succeeded.
There’s very little light relief; one good joke from Harrison Ford and some amusing product placements. Most of the actual entertainment comes from spotting references, which shows the sort of audience the producers were aiming at. There are not the same number of quotable one-liners in it, but perhaps that’ll come with time.
The issues at play in the film are pretty much the same as the first one. But given that those issues – what it means to be human, especially when our machines can be (as Eldon Tyrell said in the first film) “more human than human” – are more relevant now than they were 35 years ago, this is still valid and there’s still a lot to be said and asked in that direction. (On the way back from the cinema, my other half told me about the AI game-playing program AlphaGo Zero, which has surpassed earlier versions of itself in three days by winning 100 successive games of Go and has exceeded all earlier versions of itself without human intervention inside forty days of operation. The same algorithm can be applied to complex scientific problems such as protein folding. There can now be little doubt that we are out-evolving ourselves, making the world of Blade Runner 2049 all the more probable.)
For all its references back to the original, it’s not a “by-the-numbers” sequel. (Indeed, about twenty years ago, K.W. Jeter was contracted to write two sequel novels – which was an interesting trick seeing as Philip K. Dick never sold the film novelisation rights to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so there was never a Blade Runner novel – but the first one was definitely ‘by-the-numbers’ and was pretty pedestrian. I never read the second one.) And like the original, which was problematical for the studio because on the basis of the pre-publicity, audiences were expecting a ‘Raiders of the Last Android’, this film is not a Hollywood “Things Exploding!” blockbuster (despite the trailer). This is probably why, like the original, it’s not been big box office. Watching the trailers for forthcoming genre attractions – Geostorm, Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok for example, I could visualise the likely audience and the sort of way those films would pan out. I see none of them being watched again over the next 35 years the way Blade Runner 2049 will be.