Blade Runner 2049 opens nationwide October 6, 2017 • Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas • TLM Rating 3.5/4
“Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t try to up the original in any way; the words, “bigger” and “better,” which are so often attached to sequels, do not apply. The film is a natural extension—a lateral movement into new frontiers, but still within the world that was so vividly established in Ridley Scott’s science-fiction classic.
If this film had any sacred duty, it was to reassemble that world. The melancholic, soggy streets where the defeated seem to coalesce into a human mud puddle; the patchwork of gaudy ads for Coca-Cola and Atari that blanket the city in the artificial light it thematically deserves; the bland, fascistic architecture that hides big minds from what they perceive to be little ones. To call this world beautiful would be misleading, but it is something to behold and alive once again thanks to Denis Villeneuve and his cinematographer, Roger Deakins. As this is 2049, thirty years after the events of the first film, certain technological advances have been made. Interestingly, this only makes the world feel hollower than before.
Villeneuve keeps the film-noir atmosphere intact, as well. Ryan Gosling is K, the no-nonsense gumshoe—a blade runner, as they’re called—assigned to a fairly straightforward case involving the “retirement” of a replicant. Should these terms warrant defining, a replicant is a machine that is nearly indistinguishable from a human, both in appearance and behavior, and “retirement” is a PR spin for their execution. I would rather refrain from advancing any further into plot details, as that is a minefield of potential spoilers, but it’s safe to say that K’s case leads him to a series of colorful characters, both new and old, who each contain a piece of some larger truth.
Many of the questions from the 1982 film still remain—they are unanswerable, after all. For example, the first film asked what it was to be a human, a replicant and a god. Where are the lines drawn, and who is drawing them? A replicant can love, but it’s programmed to, thus making it a mere simulation of love; but are humans not also victims of their own programming? “2049” throws some major wrinkles into these questions, especially with K as our protagonist, who offers a very different perspective from Deckard, the protagonist of the first film. To go through these wrinkles would risk revealing secrets, so all I’ll say is that the writing remains thought-provoking and, at times, poignant.
The film is nearly three hours long. This is not due to a lengthy story, but rather to the film’s judicious pace, which is where its film-noir roots really show through. Such a thing is helpful in creating and maintaining a particular mood, as well as providing the maximum amount of opportunities to drool over the photography—bring a bucket, by the way. And with a story that raises so many heady questions on humanity and nature, it would feel wrong to be yanked through; instead, the film is confident in its ultimate destination and, therefore, savors every moment in getting there.
Anyone worried that bringing back “Blade Runner” would result in a generic, attention-deficient action movie can rest easy.
The leadership of Villeneuve, director of “Sicario” and last year’s “Arrival,” should have tempered your fears long ago. Possibly, the film’s most admirable feat is not getting lost in the existential theories and grand meditations on life, and keeping sight of the “human” love story from which those very things are given meaning.