'Like many sequels, Blade Runner 2049 is a family affair. A dead tree yields a body, a skull, a woman, a replicant who looks like she might have died in childbirth. Might replicants be capable of reproducing? Might K’s memories be real after all? This plot — basically Pinocchio with more eco-pollution — is a clever mirror image of the the first film, which left many wondering if Ford himself was a replicant and just as many with the suspicion that for Scott this would have constituted a happy ending. For Blade Runner was above all a hymn to the synthetic — from its Vangelis score to its fire-belching ziggurats to its rain-slick poetry about “tears in rain” spoken by those beautiful, damned neo-Nietzcheans, the replicants. That tradition is continued here by Jared Leto, wearing a beard, a kimono and scary contact lenses, as the replicants creator, Neander Wallace, delivering megalomaniac-gnomic pensées about angels and kings — “We make angels in the service of civilization” — in a deep amber vault traversed by moving shafts of light, like a Bond villain hide-out designed by Frank Gehry. Villeneuve has a cleaner, more organic eye than Scott’s — think of those egg-shaped alien craft in Arrival, or the gun-metal grey production design of Sicario. He delivers the same hit of urban sublime — his city echoing with the same polyglot babble, and overlooked by massive corporate advertising including touchingly retro nods to the now defunct Atari and PanAm — but he spends more time in the air, not trudging the streets, and roams further outside its limits to find stretches of desiccated desert and third-worldish trash heaps. These are stunningly framed by cinematographer Roger Deakins, but attended by the suspicion that you are watching a series of stunning cinematographic set-pieces strung together on a thin clothes-line of plot. If a grimy pulp blockbuster can be raised to the level of art, have at it. This is the film to launch a thousand screen savers. Weirdly, it plays better in memory that it does in real-time.
The same might be said of Blade Runner itself, a film at times too becalmed by its own beauty, but you felt a moral grime nipping at its manhunt plot — in the form of all those noir trimmings, Ford’s whisky-spur voiceover-over, and the grimy urgency of M. Emmet Walsh as Deckard’s police captain. Villeneuve has his mind on higher matters. “This breaks the world,” barks K’s superior, LAPD Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) of a case that comes bedecked with Biblical trimmings — talk of miracles, God and even an allusion to Pale Fire, Nabokov’s great false-bottomed masterpiece about obsession, literary theft and megalomania. I’m normal agnostic on this kind of name-drop — when Iron Man 2 referenced James Joyce's Ulysses, you could only laugh at it’s balls — but here it gives you a genuine clue as to what Villeneuve’s up to: he’s made a sequel as much to the memory and myth of Blade Runner — how the film has bloomed in all our heads in the past three decades — as to the actual film itself. Therein lies both his film’s magnificence and occasional longeurs.Ryan’s Goslings hunt for a soul, stretching to some 2 hours and 45 minutes, doesn't quite hold centre stage in the same way that the hunt for a 6’1” Rutger Hauer did, and when Harrison Ford finally shows up, at around the 2 hour mark, you think, somewhat treacherously: okay, now we’re talking. Bone-weary, haggard, slugging back whiskey amid holograms of Elvis and Monroe, Ford seems to register twinkly bemusement at all these thirty-year-old sci-fi franchises that suddenly seem to be knocking on his door. Who ever imagined that the sci-fi films of yesteryear would turn out to haunt us so? A gorgeous confession of soullessness whose sweet, synthetic ache may represent the best that Hollywood has to offer right now, Blade Runner 2049 is this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. A masterpiece? It’s a pretty good replicant of one.