Ridley’s Scott’s 1982 film, ‘Blade Runner,’ remains a masterpiece of science fiction cinema even to this day. It re-defined the vision of a future for a whole generation of filmmakers and fans, overlaying breathtaking visuals over a film noir plot. The film’s relatively simple bounty hunter storyline may be the driving force bridging scene to scene, but it’s the fully-realized periphery and implied religious and social themes that elevate ‘Blade Runner’ to its’ rarefied status. Scott has passed the torch to equally visionary director Denis Villeneuve (again working with esteemed cinematographer and frequent Coen Bros. collaborator Roger Deakins), who has successfully maintained the brutal nature and expanded the palate of the ‘Blade Runner’ world to wondrous, captivating, mesmerizing effect.
The announcement of a sequel to what amounts to a 30+ year-old cult film was a head scratcher. At first it seemed like an attempt to capitalize on nostalgia like so much pop-culture in the 2010’s, but as the talented cast and crew assembled, it became apparent that there may be more to say artistically about human nature within this future setting that never came to be (the first BR was set in a 2019 populated by flying cars and genetic slaves). ‘Blade Runner 2049’ uses the framework and character beats established in the original film, along with some insinuations as to what transpired following its’ events, to create a different kind of future-noir meditation.
While there may be debate as to whether Harrison Ford’s blade runner (the term for police dedicated to putting down rogue artificial men and women) Deckard was a replicant, there is no doubt about this film’s central figure. Ryan Gosling’s ‘K’, a blade runner hunting fellow replicants, in a running societal motif of status, isn’t even dignified with a name beyond a shortened version of his serial number. The film bleakly opens on the outskirts of an unrecognizable Los Angeles as K tracks down a older-model renegade replicant played by the burly Dave Bautista. Their interaction and subsequent altercation is meticulously framed and sets up a new mystery for K and the audience to ponder. To say more about the plot would be a disservice to its’ intricate unfolding via a stark screenplay by Michael Green (‘Logan’) and original BR screenwriter Hampton Fancher. Suffice it to say, this detective story’s clues take its’ central figure to various desolate and desperate settings, ranging from an unusual child labor sweatshop in the middle of the immense refuse dump that used to be San Diego, to a deserted, and what appears to have been an even more decadent Las Vegas, before it was subjected to some form of weapon, a futuristic Sodom & Gomorrah racked by radiation poisoning.
The visuals are some of the most awe-inspiring ever committed and the framing meticulously designed, yet ‘2049’ falls short as an absolute classic. This is partly due to it living alongside its’ perfectly unique predecessor. It is also hurt by a few plot points, that while impeccably staged, still owe creatively to other recent films. This is particularly the case in scenes depicting the entrancing relationship between K and his artificially intelligent home operating system, Ana de Armas’s Joi; ground already tread by Scarlett Johansson’s purely vocal performance in Spike Jonze’s 2013 masterclass of future vision, ‘Her.’ ‘Blade Runner 2049’ can’t possibly live up to its’ predecessor, but by fleshing out themes of caste, human relations with, and quite frankly abuse of, technology, and the search for the profound, the film delivers just about everything one could ask . . .
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Written By: Hampton Fancher & Michael Green
Running Time: 164 min.
* * * ½ (out of four stars) -OR- A-