Tremendous visuals, soul searching story make this a more than worthy follow-up to the groundbreaking 1982 original
“Blade Runner 2049” is an eyeful, a visual extravaganza that matches and even tops its predecessor in terms of futuristic dystopian urban wasteland beauty.
That’s saying a lot, since 1982’s “Blade Runner” pretty much set the template for anything gritty, rainy and future-set that followed in its wake. That includes “The Terminator,” “The Fifth Element,” “The Matrix,” “Ghost in the Shell,” “Minority Report,” Billy Idol’s “Cyberpunk” album and the Spice Girls’ video for “Spice Up Your Life.” Basically, anything that took on the look of neon-lit neo-Tokyo owes a debt to Ridley Scott’s original.
That stunning visual palate, brought to life by director Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Arrival”) and cinematographer Roger Deakins, doesn’t justify “2049’s” absurd 163-minute running time, but it helps soften the blow. There is so much to take in that the film feels closer to the two-hour mark than it does the three, and given that there are some 90-minute films out there that feel twice their length, that’s a positive.
“2049” is a tough, brooding film that is, for the most part, as complex and challenging as it thinks it is. This is a movie that takes on the nature of reality itself, a highwire act that could cause many filmmakers to go splat. Villeneuve keeps his balance. That is a rather amazing feat in and of itself, since “Blade Runner’s” influence is so massive that no other filmmaker has even attempted to follow it up, save for Scott himself, who has offered up a handful of supplemental cuts over the years that tinker with the details of the story, an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Even “Blade Runner” itself has difficulty living up to the “Blade Runner” myth; go back and watch it, it’s pretty plodding for large stretches. (And yes, you should see “Blade Runner” before heading into “2049,” whether for the first time or as a refresher. Skip the theatrical version and check out 2007’s “Final Cut.”)
In “2049” Ryan Gosling plays “K,” a “blade runner” for the LAPD who hunts down bio-engineered androids known as replicants. He’s a replicant himself, and a pretty lonely one at that; he’s derided as a “skinjob” by his co-workers, and his sole companion is Joi (Ana de Armas), a Siri-like holographic sex bot that is programmed to care for him.
While investigating a case, K discovers evidence that a replicant has given birth, the repercussions from which could shatter the nature of the known universe. K also begins to wonder whether or not he’s really a replicant, a flip on the question posed by Deckard (Harrison Ford) in the original film.
Gosling, of course, tracks down Deckard (no spoiler there, Harrison Ford is on the movie’s posters), as Ford offers up another late-in-life appearance in a long-dormant franchise (he was 19 years between “Indiana Jones” movies and 32 years between “Star Wars” appearances; here’s to hoping he’s around for that 2027 “Fugitive” reboot). When “2049” transitions from snow-covered L.A. (a not-so-subtle nod to our changing climate) to the blown-out orange hues of Las Vegas, it might as well be shifting to Mars.
Jared Leto is on board as Wallace, a manufacturer of replicants he calls his “angels,” and while his performance (and particularly his stilted speech pattern) borders on camp, Villeneuve gives him enough of a safety net that he doesn’t inspire guffaws. (Okay, maybe one guffaw.) Robin Wright plays Joshi, K’s superior at the LAPD, and Dave Bautista is a worm farmer who early on clashes with K.
Gosling has a sort of detached, robotic manner that is perfect for the film, and he’s in nearly every scene, making him the icy soul of the movie. Armas is a standout as well; the Cuba-born actress made an impression in “Knock Knock” and “Hands of Stone,” but is poised to take off after “2049.”
“2049” is a little bit “Westworld,” a little bit “Pinocchio” and a little bit tough to take in all at once, but between the film’s eye-popping visuals and Hans Zimmer’s colossal score, this is a film to be seen on as big a screen as possible. Watching it on your phone would be like experiencing a solar eclipse by watching someone else’s video of it on Snapchat. Not the same.
“Blade Runner 2049” has some big shoes to fill and it manages to do the job. Like “Tron: Legacy” or “Mad Max: Fury Road,” it takes on the themes and universe set forth in the original and builds on them, and manages to live up to the massive expectations that greet it. This is no replicant, it’s the real deal.
‘Blade Runner 2049’
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Running time: 163 minutes