BLADE RUNNER 2049
***1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Denis Villeneuve
STARS Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford
Let’s slice through the studio hype and fanboy hyperventilation and immediately answer the pressing question on everyone’s mind. Is Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner, a masterpiece like its predecessor? Definitely not. To be blunt, it’s not even a match for 2016’s superb Arrival, the previous film from director Denis Villeneuve. Yet on its own terms, it’s a dazzling achievement, a heady motion picture that employs state-of-the-art visuals to punch across its alternately tough and tender story of love, loss and identity.
Because this is the type of film that benefits from a virginal viewing free of spoilers — and because parent studio Warner Bros. promised to dispatch the Dark Knight to rip asunder any critics who break the vow of silence — plot details will be purposely sketchy. Suffice to say that this one is set 30 years after director Ridley Scott’s original, in a period when powerful manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) is designing replicants that are comparatively more benign than the previous models. Blade runners still exist, tasked with tracking down these vintage replicants and terminating them with extreme prejudice. One such blade runner is “K” (Ryan Gosling), who’s a replicant himself. But a visit to a farm to track down a fugitive leads to the discovery of a box holding shocking material. As K’s superior (Robin Wright) gravely intones, these contents could create a war and tear apart the very fabric of society.
“Yes, questions,” purrs Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) to genetic engineer Hannibal Chew (James Hong) in the ’82 version, a sentiment that might also be directed at this new picture’s screenwriters. Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original (adapting Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), and Michael Green, whose cinematic at-bats consist of Green Lantern, Logan and Alien: Covenant, do a fine job not only of maintaining this futureworld but also in laying out themes that lend new meaning and import to what Salvador Dali tagged Persistence of Memory. Yet a few niggling queries still manage to formulate amidst the ample exposition, and, for a film that runs a generous 164 minutes, the back end still feels needlessly rushed.
Yet overall, Blade Runner 2049 is a towering work, and if there’s one area in which it equals its predecessor, it’s in its empathic reach. The character of Joi, an AI who somehow seems to genuinely love K, is achingly brought to life by Cuban actress Ana de Armas, and, as a renegade replicant, Dave Bautista figures in an early sequence that nicely encapsulates the struggles of Batty et al in the 1982 film. Mainly, though, there’s Harrison Ford, returning to the part of Rick Deckard. Ford’s role should have been much larger, but in the context of what he’s given, he’s excellent, providing a wariness — and weariness — that lines up nicely with the Deckard from three decades earlier. Ford’s turn is just one of the ample pleasures in a movie that won’t soon fade from memory.