To make a sequel, 35 years on, to one of the most important sci-fi movies is an act of incredible hubris. That Denis Villeneuve has made a Blade Runner movie that doesn’t sully Ridley Scott’s original is extraordinary. That he’s made a follow-up that perhaps even surpasses its parent is something close to a cinematic miracle.
If you have never watched the first, don’t book your tickets until you have. You will be confused. You need to know who Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is and what he did, because this is very much a continuation. It’s not just in the same world; it is a much later chapter in the same story. We pick up 30 years on with an entirely new character – Ryan Gosling’s K – who, like Deckard, hunts replicants (synthetic humans) who have escaped their owners and are considered dangerous. Where that story goes, we’ll let you find out on screen, but it reaches back frequently to part one.
Like the first, this is a philosophical drama in blockbuster clothing. While 160 minutes is a luxurious running time, it’s used to properly chew over huge ideas and to build a world so detailed you can imagine its existence far beyond the edges of the screen. The story by Hampton Fancher, writer of the original, goes much deeper into the theme of what it means to be alive and of humanity as obsolete hardware. This isn’t an action-packed movie. Neither was the first. It leaves you more shaken than most action movies do by plunging you into a world so fascinating and enveloping that to be ripped from it and thrust back into reality brings on something like the bends.
Oof, what a world. Villeneuve has no intention of its being the ugly sibling to one of the most beautiful films ever made. It’s all jaw-dropping, a world of smog and neon, where impossible skyscrapers carry the rich above the filth and tangle of cities built so densely that from above they look like a single block. It’s a triumph. Following Sicario and Arrival with this, Villeneuve has confirmed himself as the best director currently working in Hollywood. His sequel to a sci-fi landmark is itself a sci-fi landmark.