The year is 2049. Los Angeles, a megacity suffering from overpopulation, ecological upheaval and an ever increasing reliance on technology, finds itself confronted with greater issues regarding the android slave laborers, or replicants. Renowned replicant hunter, or blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) has vanished.
Shortly after 2019, the Tyrell Corporation dissolved due to replicant insurrection. In its absence, the Wallace Corporation absorbed all remaining research and improved the replicants, instilling in them an unbreakable obedience. Detective K (Ryan Gosling), a Wallace Corporation replicant blade runner tasked with hunting the fugitive Tyrell models, discovers a world-changing secret. As a result, his fate intertwines with Deckard’s.
The concept of a “Blade Runner” sequel can easily cultivate even more despair over Hollywood’s dearth of creativity. Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film is considered a landmark of the genre. Scott returns as a producer on “2049,” along with original writer Hampton Fancher. Behind the camera is visionary director Denis Villeneuve of “Sicario” (2015) and “Arrival” (2016) fame. Even with the talent involved, it’s easy to understand why someone would remain skeptical.
Luckily, Villeneuve exceeds expectations and dispels any doubt with “Blade Runner 2049.”
Though he makes plenty of nods to the original film, Villeneuve forges a unique identity, never getting caught in Scott’s shadow. His propensity for blending complex ideas with emotionally grounded storytelling shines in grandiose fashion, complementing and expanding upon the mysteries and themes presented by the preceding film. Judging by his work in “Arrival,” it should come as no surprise how in tune he is with his vision. Working with ideas at a protracted but well-timed pace, as well as offering an original spin on the mythos, he molds “2049” into a more mentally engrossing adventure.
Blade Runner’s most distinguishable characteristics lie in its scintillating visuals and depictions of future Los Angeles as a technologically dystopian, multicultural metropolis dominated by industrialization, looming skyscrapers, overcrowded living spaces and machinery. Villeneuve takes those aspects to another level, depicting their social consequences and further developing an already ingenious world. He also infuses artificial intelligence (AI) into the narrative, which actually serves a purpose in the story, most notably in furthering Detective K’s character development.
Gosling proves a capable lead, snugly filling in Ford’s shoes and offering a unique protagonist with the seasoned nature of Deckard, combined with a harsh coldness. It seems contradictory, but Fancher’s sharp script and Villeneuve’s passionate direction shape Detective K into an emotionally resonant character. With each layer of mystery revealed, K displays a tender growth that makes his large scale voyage feel personal. It’s in his interactions with his AI companion, Joi (Ana de Armas), that he exhibits a softer side of someone who’s essentially a government tool.
Gosling and Ford make a formidable pairing and an effective contrast of youth and age. K’s parallels with Deckard make their dynamic an even more interesting watch, even though they don’t share as much time together as one would hope. Deckard doesn’t have much screen time, even though the marketing emphasizes him. Nonetheless, it was a joy to see Ford playing one of his non-Indiana Jones and Han Solo roles once more. Ford’s performance as Deckard in “Blade Runner 2049″ outclasses his last outing as Han Solo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015).
On top of unanimously great performances, “Blade Runner 2049” also brandishes a litany of technical marvels. The visuals, guided by impeccable cinematographer Roger Deakins, consistently impress. His color choices (especially the warm yellows and oranges in Wallace headquarters) and slick camera movements never cease to inspire awe and excitement. Any shot can be taken and used as a desktop background or framed as a painting. His work precisely captures the vastness and chaos of the sprawling L.A. metropolis that defines the Blade Runner world. Throw in Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s blaring score, and you’re in for a treat.
On top of Deakins’ work, Villeneuve astutely combines practical effects with CGI. He emphasizes the use of real sets, only resorting to computerized effects when absolutely necessary. There is one especially notable effect that appears near the film’s climax (which the Daily will not specify, due to its importance to the story) that continues the generally divisive trend of facial recreation in mainstream movies, but for the better, in the story’s context.
The trailers promise an action-packed picture, but the film doesn’t entirely align with the previews. “2049” runs almost three hours, at times at a slow pace, which might not click with everyone. There are a couple, and just a couple, of story-related elements in the film’s latter half that don’t get much development, but they contain spoilers. In short, they felt somewhat hasty and didn’t go far enough for a viewer to care. However, these flaws don’t detract from the overall experience.
Some minute complaints aside, Villeneuve’s take on the Blade Runner mythos is nothing less than astonishing. His inspired continuation neither blatantly capitalizes on the classic’s fame nor forces references, but rather expands on what made it great in the first place. “Blade Runner 2049” is what sequels should strive for and will hopefully get Deakins his long overdue Oscar for cinematography.
This film definitely warrants rewatches, and if you haven’t seen it yet, do so now, preferably in IMAX.