Blade Runner 2049 is an absolutely beautiful film. Director Denis Villeneuve’s return to the world Ridley Scott crafted in the 1982 original shares its progenitor’s evocative believability as well as its hallucinatory aesthetic appeal.
Ryan Gosling is a compelling lead as (Josef?) K., a Blade Runner charged with hunting down rogue replicants in a near-deserted future Earth. His only relationship is with Joi, a hyper-sexualised Siri played with luminous appeal by Cuban actress Ana de Armas. K’s quest for some sort of meaning to his own existence drives the noirish plot through a luscious, futuristic wasteland dotted with dream factories and odd pseudo-Dickensian orphanages.
But that meaning is wrapped up in a secret that could destroy what remains of society.
The film is, that rare beast, a sequel that equals and in some way surpasses the original. Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard in fine, grumpy form but Gosling holds the centre of the film as a fundamentally decent man carried down a dark road by his need to belong.
There’s also, for Bible readers, an interesting allusion to the story of Rachel the wife of Jacob intertwined with ingenious expansion on the mythology established in the 1982 film.
The original Blade Runner was set in a bustling, neon-larded metropolis of 2019 studded with advertisements for now-lost brands. The new film plays with that parallel-future dimension by throwing in a huge Pan-Am billboard alongside the six-storey holograms advertising artificially-intelligent companions.
As well as the reappearance of Ford and the beautiful soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch which evokes the classic Vangelis underscore without ever quite straying into pastiche there are a couple of other nostalgic callbacks to Scott’s original that will delight fans. Blade Runner 2049 is an orgy of futuristic nostalgia.
But the film’s great flaw lies in its treatment of women. When they are not dewy-eyed biddable holograms they are real-life sex workers or one-dimensional bosses.
And no matter what their job description is they are, all of them, victims. Villeneuve seems to have hewed more closely to the gender politics of 1982, rather than 2017 or (we would hope) 2049.
Jared Leto is Niander Wallace, the apparently blind industrial magnate at the heart of the plot. There are a few dozen ways that we could be shown that he’s not a very nice man that do not necessitate the graphic evisceration of a mute naked woman.
Whether you believe the world of tomorrow will see an expansion of current women’s rights or a resurgence of religious fundamentalism the idea of products being advertised by naked female bodies seems an unlikely eventuality too.
Blade Runner 2049 is an absolutely beautiful film, and I enjoyed watching it. I can’t help thinking, though, that many women will quite justifiably enjoy it rather less.