The idea of making a sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic Blade Runner has long been akin to inviting a Replicant over to play chess: it was just the ultimate Bad Idea. And yet here we are, 35 years after the original noir sci-fi classic was released, and that sequel, Blade Runner 2049, has turned out to be the best idea. In fact, not only is 2049 an amazing movie on its own merits, but it’s also faithful to its predecessor even while it finds ways to transcend it at times. It’s that rare breed of film that already feels like an instant classic.
Ryan Gosling takes the center seat here as Agent K, a Blade Runner working the rough and tough streets of dystopic Los Angeles some 30 years after the original film. His mission remains the same as Harrison Ford’s Deckard’s was back then: Track down and “retire” any renegade humanoid androids — AKA Replicants. The film opens with K in the middle of one such investigation, as he interrogates a potential Replicant. Is this latest target human or isn’t he? And what does that mean to K? You’ll have to watch the film to find out, though the throughline of Blade Runner 2049 asks an even bigger question: Does it really matter anymore who’s a Replicant and who’s not?
While the basic concept of the original film is maintained here, the Blade Runner world has evolved and changed in meaningful ways since Deckard was first seen slurping noodles and bitching about his ex-wife. Roy Batty’s violent escapades on Earth did not mean the end of Replicant kind; no, the Replicants and the humans around them have just adapted in the years since then. The result is a line between human and Replicant that is even more blurred than it was the first time around, and the effects of that blurring bear a heavy emotional weight for the characters and the viewer.
Much of what’s really happening in director Denis Villeneuve’s (Arrival, Sicario) film has been kept out of the marketing, and having seen the film unspoiled, it does seem a shame to ruin any reveals – even what’s going on in that first scene with the possible Replicant. This is perhaps a unique aspect of Blade Runner 2049 in that we often go into movies these days – especially big-studio franchise films – knowing most of what’s about to go down. Entering this film mostly ignorant is the best way to approach it, and mercifully, we’ve been allowed to do that without having to go into full media blackout mode.
Villeneuve (along with his screenwriters Hampton Fancher, back from the original film, and Michael Green) has made the kind of movie that seems almost impossible to pull off these days: a $100-million-plus extravaganza that’s more art film than cookie-cutter action spectacle. Shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, every image in 2049 is gorgeous and dripping with color, life, and feeling. Indeed, the film’s nearly three-hour running time may seem daunting to those going in, but it’s mostly earned, allowing the director to fully realize the mood and atmosphere of the piece. Not only have Villeneuve and Deakins successfully recreated the world of the original Blade Runner, they’ve also expanded it beyond the confines of Los Angeles to farms, the Nevada desert, and city-sized junkyards. Even while a huge neon Atari sign and wisps of the Vangelis soundtrack from the 1982 film keep us anchored in Deckard’s film, the sight of a giant, living holographic billboard accompanied by new music by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer puts Agent K front and center in this brave new Blade Runner world.
As for Deckard, and Harrison Ford for that matter, it takes a while to get to him, but the infamous mystery surrounding the character and the events of the 1982 film are the mountain that 2049 builds upon. And when Ford finally does show up, it is well worth the wait. This is not phoned-in Ford or my-agent-told-me-I-should-do-this Ford. No, this is Ford the legend, who brings a quiet, sort of gut-wrenching interpretation to Deckard and what he must’ve gone through in the past three decades.
Gosling, meanwhile, plays K like a private eye who’s had a bellyful of pain in his tough life, and he and Ford work off each other perfectly. Which isn’t to say that the two necessarily like one another; a fantastic scene of conflict between them amid a malfunctioning holographic casino show has to be seen to be believed, not just for the visual dazzle that Villeneuve achieves but also for the back and forth between old dog Deckard and the young gun K.
The rest of the cast is also impressive. Again, careful avoidance of spoilers prevents one from saying too much, but Ana de Armas, as K’s love interest/gal Friday Joi, is stunning in a unique role that begs for post-viewing discussion. Ditto for Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, the lieutenant of new corporate baddie/super-scientist Wallace (Jared Leto), supplanter to the Tyrell Corporation. Hoeks proves as great a threat as Roy Batty ever was, while Leto is in the film just enough to not overstay his welcome. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista has a small but important role, bringing a restrained pathos to his character. And while Mackenzie Davis, as streetwalker Mariette, is unfortunately given less to do than the others, she does share a memorable scene with de Armas and Gosling that is simultaneously sad and enthralling and manages to comment on the unreality of modern-day social media personas without being heavy-handed about it.
Of course, that’s what Blade Runner has always been about: identity. As Deckard says about Roy Batty in his original narration in the 1982 film, “All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?” The filmmakers of Blade Runner 2049 continue to ask those questions, bringing new and fascinating variations to the theme, and satisfactorily resolving Deckard’s story along the way.
Blade Runner 2049
Release Date: Oct 6, 2017