I haven’t watched the original Blade Runner for many years and I was surprised at just how little I could remember of its actual plot. What I definitely hadn’t forgotten, though, are its beautiful neon-lit visuals and the wonderfully atmospheric Vangelis soundtrack - which I bought on CD at a time when, ironically given the grim dystopian vision of the future depicted in the film, CDs were seen as glamorously futuristic (oh how I wish I’d stuck with vinyl). I listened to it in darkened rooms with my eyes closed and lost myself in it.
I’m delighted and relieved to report that Blade Runner 2049 is as visually beautiful as my memories of the first film. It’s a stunning, jaw-dropping feast for the eyes from the second it starts through to its conclusion. The world it depicts is an awe-inspiring juxtaposition of ultra-futuristic technology and landscapes intertwined with gloomy interiors that wouldn’t look out of place in 1950s Soviet Union. It feels rooted in reality; utterly beautiful one moment, grey and bleak the next.
Moreover, its visuals are matched by its soundtrack; this time composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. To say it builds tension and gives you goosebumps in all the right places would be an understatement - it’s a perfect fusion of sound and vision.
The film isn’t all beauty without substance though. For all its many good points, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was essentially a reboot of the original film; Blade Runner 2049 is a proper sequel in every sense of the word, continuing the original story in a meaningful way.
Set thirty years after the original, K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner - a police officer authorised to hunt down and destroy older-model rogue androids known as replicants. K is, himself, an android and lives with a holographic girlfriend called Joi (Ana de Armas). K’s domestic life with Joi takes the idea of Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls for a Siri-style computer program voiced by Scarlett Johansson, to its logical next level.
K’s entire belief system is blown apart following a ‘Rosebud’ style revelation that sets him off on a new mission while hotly pursued by Luv (the excellent Sylvia Hoeks) - a kickass enforcer employed by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the Head of the sinister Wallace Corporation which manufactures the new breed of compliant replicants.
It's no plot-spoiler (as he's featured so prominently on the film's poster) to reveal that K eventually crosses paths with the original blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford on top form and still looking in ridiculously fine fettle at 75 years of age).
Gosling’s performance as K shouldn’t be underestimated. Only truly great actors can convey emotions or inner thoughts when they’re not speaking in a way that doesn’t ‘look like acting’. It’s a skill essential for the role of K and, thankfully, Gosling is a really great actor. His eyes are windows to K’s soul (but then, of course, androids can’t have a soul can they)?
Blade Runner 2049 leaves you to ponder such philosophical questions long after the final credits have rolled. It gets under your skin and inside your brain for days afterwards - demanding you debate big issues, from imagining where artificial intelligence may really take mankind in the future through to the very meaning of life itself. How many Hollywood blockbusters can you say that about?
Far from being weighed down by the legacy of its predecessor, 35 years later director Denis Villeneuve has created a near-faultless modern masterpiece every bit its equal. It’s an instant classic that demands to be seen on the big screen; waiting for the DVD would be sacrilege.