Blade Runner 2049 was released theatrically in October 2017 to critical acclaim, with many asserting that it improved upon the story established in Ridley Scott's 1982 original, a rare feat for any sequel, let alone a sequel released thirty-five years after the original had gained cult-classic status. Yet, like the original Blade Runner before it, 2049 was a box-office ‘disappointment' by Hollywood's unreasonably high standards – grossing only $259 million dollars against an estimated $185 million dollar budget. In the weeks following Blade Runner 2049's release, film fans the world over were led to wonder what led to this commercial let-down; some pointed to the film's hefty 163 minute run-time turning some cinema-goers off and limiting the number of screenings per day, others commented that while Ryan Gosling is a superbly talented actor with a diverse resumé, his success has been largely within the world of independent films, having never opened a huge-budget studio film before. In many ways, the theatrical release of Blade Runner 2049 mirrors its predecessor, a box-office flop from a hot director that didn't gain its current level of reverence until decades after it's release.
Blade Runner 2049 picks up nearly 30 years after the original left-off: when megalomaniacal industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) takes over the failing Tyrell Corp, manufacturer of the bioengineered humans known as Replicants, he creates newer, more obedient models of replicant slaves in an attempt to colonise distant worlds. This includes K (Ryan Gosling), a specifically designed Replicant Blade Runner, tasked with hunting down and ‘retiring' antiquated Replicants that have gone rogue. Sullen and subjected to rigorous neurological conditioning after every successful mission, K occupies a dingy apartment, accompanied by a mass-produced hologram girlfriend, Joi (Ana De Armas). Like Scott before him, director Denis Villeneuve uses Blade Runner 2049 to explore themes of humanity and isolation in an artificial world, with K pondering if it is possible to be human, to have a soul, when you were never born to begin with.
Only a visionary director like Denis Villeneuve could be trusted at the helm of such a prestigious sequel; with Blade Runner 2049, the Arrival and Sicario director has proven that he can also play nicely within someone else's sandbox and with a considerably larger budget, constructing a beautifully bleak world that feels like a continuation of the original film, rather than a carbon copy. Re-teaming with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, every frame of Blade Runner 2049 tells its own story, with the pair cramming incredible amounts of detail into every shot. Meanwhile, a sparse, subdued score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch keeps the film from ever feeling like a sensory overload.
Following it's cinematic release, it became almost impossible to talk about Blade Runner 2049 without mentioning it's run-time which, at 163 minutes, is certainly on the lengthy side of sci-fi blockbusters (although only ten minutes longer than mainstream smash-hit Star Wars: The Last Jedi). Part of the reason for this extended run-time is that Blade Runner 2049 is a film of two distinct sections: the first dedicated to expanding the dystopian world of Blade Runner, introducing new characters and concepts alongside those already established in 1982. The second ‘act' of the film reintroduces the audience to Deckard (Harrison Ford) who, after going into hiding following the events of the first film, becomes a target for both K and Niander Wallace. Ironically, in spite of its length, certain plot-lines and characters, such as Niander Wallace and the freedom movement, actually feel underserved. Screenwriter Hampton Francher's story for Blade Runner 2049 could have quite easily been split into two separate films, allowing a greater exploration of some of the characters and themes introduced in the sequel and a less jarring structure.
Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful and surprisingly emotional, but ultimately flawed film. Faced with the impossible task of following up such a beloved first instalment so long after its release, Denis Villeneuve has solidified himself as the master of the intelligent blockbuster, crafting a film that is thought-provoking without being pompous, and entertaining without gratuitous violence or CGI, if slightly overlong. While some characters are less fleshed-out than others, it's easy to forget that the original Blade Runner was met with a lukewarm reaction from critics, and Ridley Scott wrestled for creative control over the final edit for decades before the definitive cut was released. Only time will reveal the fate of Blade Runner 2049; will it find it's audience on home video (and now streaming) like the original, or will it be remembered forever as a critical darling that just missed the mark commercially?
Blade Runner 2049 is released on digital platforms on 28th January, DVD/ Blu-Ray on 5th February 2018.
Words by Ethan Megenis-Clarke @_ethanmc
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