A fine ‘replicant’
Blade Runner update lives up to original
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner came out in 1982, 35 years ago. The director did a lot of (good) monkeying with the original over the years—resulting in a final cut a decade ago—but it didn’t seem like much thought was given to a follow-up.
Now in 2017, we actually do get a sequel, this time directed by Denis Villeneuve, the visionary behind Enemy and Arrival (Scott remains involved as a producer). Harrison Ford—who has been known to moan about the original—has, nonetheless, returned to play blade runner Rick Deckard. Ryan Gosling steps into the starring role of K, a new blade runner tasked with “retiring” older model replicants, aka synthetic humans.
Other than the presence of Ford in the final act of the movie, and the vision of Pan Am and Atari logos still present in the Los Angeles skyline, there is little to make this one feel like a standard sequel. Blade Runner 2049 goes off on many new tangents, bending the mind when it comes to topics like A.I., what constitutes love, and determining what is “real” in this world. Villeneuve, along with writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, have concocted a whole new world, a realistic evolution of the one presented in Scott’s original.
The film opens with a scene in which a farmer (Dave Bautista) is trying to live a peaceful life before being confronted by K, who finds things at the farmer’s homestead that trigger memories, and the excavation of a body at the site triggers more. At the behest of his boss (Robin Wright), K is off on a mission to find a lost child and, eventually, old, cranky Rick Deckard.
There are many twists and turns in this nearly three-hour long movie. This is not a complaint. There is something to admire in every frame. Cinematographer Roger Deakins puts pure art in motion with his camerawork, giving us a dirtier, gloomier, yet still beautiful dystopian future. Ruined cities have never looked this gorgeous.
As with the original, there are things in this film that you have never seen before. Amazing sequences include a battle between two men in an abandoned showroom. The place used to house a hologram show starring the likes of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, and that show gets started up again after somebody flips the switch. It’s one of the more surreal scenes you will see in any movie this year. The same can be said for a moment when K meets Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), who makes memories for replicants. Villeneuve crafts an eerily beautiful scene in which K observes her creating a birthday party memory, which we see as a hologram.
Gosling is in top form, navigating a future society in which one’s sense of identity can be a very confounding thing. His home companion is a lifelike and cognizant hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas). Much credit goes to Armas for making Joi something far more than a glorified Siri/Alexa. It’s heartbreaking stuff.
The film has a few flaws. Jared Leto, while not awful, pours it on a little too thick as Niander Wallace, creator of replicants. And while the film’s finale is fine, it doesn’t live up to the excellence that preceded it.
These are minor quibbles, because the wonders that Blade Runner 2049 deliver far outrun the missteps. Villeneuve has done the legacy of the original supreme justice. I actually doubt Scott could’ve directed it better.