Time to Blade Run Again: "Blade Runner 2049" a visually arresting and dramatically satisfying sequel

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
164 min., rated R.

In an attempt to safeguard all key plot points and reveals, publicists read aloud a letter from Warner Bros. and the director asking press to be as oblique as possible in their review coverage of “Blade Runner 2049.” Even if that leaves little to actually discuss in detail, it is exciting that the marketing campaign of a film as breathlessly anticipated as this one can leave more than enough mystery for the audience to discover on their own. Believe it or not, Ridley Scott’s now-seminal 1982 science-film neo-noir “Blade Runner” was misunderstood and not well-received upon its first release, even though it planted the seed for the sci-fi genre, forcing every film that followed its lead look familiar by comparison. It garnered such a major cult following after the film was re-released and revised in multiple cuts on home video, and no matter the version really, what the film explored visually and thematically was visionary for its time. As a direct sequel thirty-five years in the making, “Blade Runner 2049” does something that is almost unheard-of — it is arguably the more fully realized and dramatically satisfying picture of the two, building upon the world Scott created and deepening its dystopian themes. It isn’t a mere replica of an original model with such an influential reputation, nor is it a soulless cash-grab to reboot a franchise, but another dazzling and more emotionally enriched puzzle piece to the story, carried out with a grand, arresting vision by filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (2016’s “Arrival”). 

The year is now 2049 and “replicants” (bioengineered humans) have long since been integrated into society since 2019 in the bleak, grimy metropolis of Los Angeles. LAPD blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with hunting down and “retiring” (terminating) the remaining set of older model replicants. After meeting with one “skin job” (Dave Bautista), who lives a solitary life as a farmer, K finds a clue that might lead him to struggle with his own destiny and memories from his childhood, and things get even more complicated when he comes across a former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Meanwhile, the Tyrell Corporation has been taken over by creepy manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who churns out new replicants and sends his right-hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) into the field keep an eye on K.

Commanding in vision and consistent in tone by filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, “Blade Runner 2049” honors Ridley Scott’s original film and Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and never conforms to noisy, stake-free action sequences when taking in the vibe of the film with stretches of silence and Villeneuve's willingness to hold a shot is so much more spellbinding. The screenplay by Hampton Fancher (back from the original film) and Michael Green (2017’s “Logan”) is constructed as a procedural, possibly convoluted in the moment but still enthralling and purposefully vague. While all of Denis Villeneuve’s films are languid and methodical, the pacing here is occasionally uneven, and that might even be more pronounced with the film’s demanding running time of two hours and forty-four minutes. Above all, Villeneuve is an excellent choice for this material, working within his own wheelhouse of ambiguity and extending the thoughtful questions that the first “Blade Runner” posed. Are replicants capable of having a soul, or are they just programmed that way? If replicants live too long, will they rebel against their controller? And, finally, who is a replicant and who is human?

Ryan Gosling is superb as K, a strong, mostly silent guide without remaining one-note and allowing the viewer to become invested in his assignment. As layers to K are peeled away the deeper he gets into his mission, one identifies with him more and more. In this stage of his career, Harrison Ford finds himself reprising iconic characters that put him on the map, and this time it is Rick Deckard. He slips right back into the role with not only even more world-weariness but a deep humanity that Ford handles with poignancy, given where Deckard is now at this point in his life. Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks is magnetic and conveys real threat as ruthless badass Luv, and there is an intensely chilling scene between her and a fierce, slicked-back-haired Robin Wright as K’s boss, the steely Lieutenant Joshi. Ana De Armas emanates innocence and warmth as K’s dutiful companion Joi, and Mackenzie Davis lends memorable support as sex worker Mariette.

As soon as the opening studio logo and production companies play out, the propulsive, ultra-cool electronic score by composer Hans Zimmer rumbles, overwhelms and immediately transports one back to the world of “Blade Runner” before even a single frame. There isn't a single moment that's not an aural and visual triumph. Dennis Gassner’s awe-inspiringly top-notch production design of the half-futuristic, half-retro metropolis is slick and gleaming in neon lights yet chilly and permeating with fog, all captured by staggeringly beautiful and textured lensing by indefatigable cinematographer Roger Deakins, while the visual effects are all flawlessly imagined. If the original introduced nifty hair dryers, this one offers up the sight of a replicant's high-tech version of a manicure and an interesting ménage à trois of sorts that reminds one of a scene in Spike Jonze’s “Her."

Not unlike 2015’s “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens,” “Blade Runner 2049” repurposes its predecessor’s themes, ideas, and characters but blazes a new trail for itself. As mysteries unfold for its central characters, there is more  detectable feeling and less of a coldness that Ridley's Scott's "Blade Runner" ultimately possessed. An astoundingly designed and intellectually stimulating continuation of a film that still defines its genre, this one surely does what any great sci-fi film should do — it’s transportive and starts animated discussion among audience members afterwards. 

Grade: B +