OP-ROB RATING: ALL-STAR
In the year 2049, San Diego will be a wasteland with nothing but rusty scraps and underground child slave labor. Los Angeles will look something like the 1927 expressionist classic “Metropolis” except with a hefty injection of Japanese marketing and about a 10000% increase in smog. Such is the physical setting for “Blade Runner 2049” in which Ryan Gosling portrays Officer K, a blade runner for the LAPD. A blade runner is someone who retires/kills replicants. Replicants are bioengineered androids who serve as slaves for the modern society. Sometimes these replicants go rogue, and must be hunted down. With the lingo mostly out of the way, it is important to note that Officer K is also a replicant. However, K is a superior model with a stronger knack for following orders. Officer K subsists day-to-day braving the harsh weather while hunting down these rogue replicants and hanging out with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) in the occasional downtime. Poor Ryan Gosling must be wishing he was still stuck in the sunny traffic back in “La La Land”.
The opening of “Blade Runner 2049” sets the stage for the rest of the movie, as K travels in his police spinner (a flying car) to a remote protein farm somewhere outside of LA. He is in search of a rogue replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). Sure enough, K encounters Morton on site, but also discovers a buried trunk containing the bones and hair of a female replicant. Back in LA, the bones are analyzed and the cause of death is revealed to be related to childbirth. If the data lines up, then the autopsy means that replicants can reproduce. Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), K’s superior, emphatically notes that this discovery “breaks the world” and Officer K is sent to investigate.
The themes in “Blade Runner 2049” swirl around the same questions from its 1982 prequel, “Blade Runner”, in which a blade runner named Deckard (Harrison Ford) chased around a particularly evasive group of rogue replicants. These questions are essentially, can androids have feelings? And if so, does this make them human? If replicants could reproduce it would be a huge leap toward answering those questions. It would also spell major trouble for the world order, which relies on what amounts to slave labor on part of the replicants, including K.
“Blade Runner 2049” is directed by Denis Villaneuve, whose previous work includes “Prisoners” in 2013, “Sicario” in 2015, and “Arrival” in 2016. The guy has been on quite a roll, and it is safe to say that “Blade Runner 2049” is another check in the win category. Villaneuve’s visuals do justice towards Ridley Scott’s original 1982 vision. The world of “Blade Runner 2049” is a delicious blend of futuristic noire. There are more than a few scenes in which K shuffles the streets with the collar of his trench coat popped to his eyes as to keep out rain, dust, or the toxic neon glow of suggestive billboards. To accompany these visually rich scenes is a chilling score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The theme from the 1982 film is also employed to bolster sentiment for admirers of the original.
However, these incredible facets alone would invoke a tepid response if it weren’t for a rock-solid cast and a crisp storyline. Ryan Gosling is superb in the lead, and Jared Leto provides an equally compelling performance as Niander Wallace, the sinister manufacturer of replicants. Harrison Ford makes a return as Deckard nearly halfway through the film, and carries the role brilliantly with his old brooding expression and sturdy stride. Somehow Ford’s appearance is far more apt in “Blade Runner 2049” than it was in “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens”. In the film, Deckard is a pivotal character in a fresh story, rather than merely a familiar face meant to appease the old guard. In fact, the ambiguity of the original “Blade Runner” serves its sequel well, as the story is able to take surprising turns in an established setting. The pacing of “Blade Runner 2049” also seems to glide along more smoothly than its predecessor, even with a nearly three-hour runtime.
On the whole “Blade Runner 2049” succeeds in the same fashion as its predecessor, through stunning, noire-ish visuals and an intriguing story. However, I believe both “Blade Runner” films lack something, as if there is a kind of emptiness ringing out at the core of Ridley Scott’s brilliant futuristic world. I cannot say, with either film, that I truly understand all facets of the story. “Blade Runner 2049” certainly brings things into focus regarding the first film, but never ties up all the loose ends. Perhaps we are being strung along for a few more sequels. Or, perhaps “Blade Runner” relies on unanswered questions to retain its mystique. Another Ridley Scott franchise, “Alien”, has reemerged in the past couple years with “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant”. These two films revealed too much information, thereby diluting the creepy unknown that defined the very best movies of the canon. Ultimately, my biggest complaint with “Blade Runner 2049” may also be a compliment. The film retains the all-important shroud. More importantly, “Blade Runner 2049” is a work of fine filmmaking on every level, and offers thrilling entertainment to boot.