Film review: Blade Runner 2049 a small yet significant step short of perfection

One of its leading men might have considerably less spring in his step than 35 years ago but the Denis Villeneuve-directed follow-up to Blade Runner is none the less a beautifully crafted, muscular and brooding sci-fi thriller, writes Damon Smith

Ana De Armas and Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2019
Damon Smith

THE imperfect, rain-lashed future of the original Blade Runner is almost upon us. Released in 1982, Ridley Scott's ground-breaking fantasy conjured a breathtaking vision of a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, festooned with alluring holograms that flicker to the mournful strains of Vangelis's electronic score.

The eagerly awaited sequel, directed by Denis Villeneuve, who was Oscar-nominated for the elliptical sci-fi thriller Arrival, honours the past and respectfully expands the nihilistic universe imagined by Philip K Dick in his novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

In Blade Runner 2049, androids dream of wooden horses and possessing the one thing that cannot be coded into their meticulously crafted bodies: a soul.

"You've been getting along fine without one," rebukes one human to her melancholic replicant underling.

Motifs from the earlier mission reverberate tantalisingly throughout this pristine follow-up, deftly stitching together two timelines without completely excluding audiences who are blissfully ignorant of the original picture.

Familiarity undoubtedly enriches the experience but also sows seeds of nostalgia-tinged disappointment. For all its bravura production design and flawless special effects, Blade Runner 2049 doesn't smack gobs with its invention aside from a sensual three-way sex scene that gently tickles our g-spot.

Like the automata that enrich human lives, Villeneuve's film is one small yet significant iteration shy of perfection.

The laconic hero is officer KD6-3.7 (Ryan Gosling), one of a new breed of grizzled blade runners, who "retire" genetically engineered replicants that live among the weary population. He returns home each night to a cold, functional apartment, where a holographic companion called Joi (Ana de Armas) creates the illusion of companionship.

Working under Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) at the Los Angeles Police Department, K hunts outdated Nexus-8 models, which haven't been coded to cherish humankind like the new replicants fashioned by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).

His "angels" are closely monitored by his most perfect creation, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), who jealousy guards her elevated position at her creator's side.

In the course of his unforgiving work, K uncovers a shocking secret.

"This breaks the world," whispers a terrified Joshi.

The subsequent quest for painful answers leads K to Deckard (Harrison Ford), who is reluctant to venture back into the automated world that almost destroyed him.

Two generations, scarred by loss, unite in the spirit of self-sacrifice.

Blade Runner 2049 is a beautifully crafted thriller that sustains a pedestrian pace, allowing us to second-guess K and even beat him to a couple of narrative punches.

Gosling's restrained performance contrasts with de Armas's luminous embodiment of a digitised love interest, who yearns to connect on the most primal level.

Ford eases back gruffly into a familiar role, noticeably with less spring in his step, while composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer crank up the volume on their bombastic score.

Villeneuve's muscular, brooding film does not fade quietly.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (15, 163 mins) Sci-fi/Thriller/Action/Romance. Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Jared Leto. Director: Denis Villeneuve

RATING: 8.5/10

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