Robots in disguise
Ridley Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner came out in 1982—35 years ago. Scott has tooled with the cut of that movie numerous times, resulting in a final cut that was released about 10 years ago. While there was a lot of monkeying—in a good way—with the original, it didn’t seem there was much thought, or chance, for an actual sequel. The original was a box-office bomb and didn’t start gaining its classic status until a decade after its release. In fact, critics beat up on it a bit.
Here 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 classically moaned about the original movie, 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, the synthetic humans originated by the likes of Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah in the original.
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’s little to make this one feel like a standard sequel. 2049 goes off on many new tangents, bending the mind when it comes to topics like artificial intelligence, what really 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 Scott’s.
The film opens with a scene actually meant for the original Blade Runner, one in which a farmer (Dave Bautista) is trying to live a peaceful life before being confronted by K. K 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, that old, cranky son of a bitch, Rick Deckard.
There are many twists and turns along the way, and there need to be, because the movie is almost three hours long. This is not a complaint. Cinematographer Roger Deakins puts pure art in motion with his camerawork, giving us a dirtier, gloomier, yet still beautiful Blade Runner. K’s travels take him to the ruins of major cities. Ruined cities have never looked this gorgeous.
As with the original, there are things in this movie you have never seen before. Amazing sequences include a battle between two men in an abandoned showroom. The showroom 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 where K meets Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), who makes memories for replicants. Villeneuve crafts an eerily beautiful scene where K observes her creating a birthday party memory, which we see as a hologram. It’s one of those movie moments where you think, “Now, that’s some hardcore original shit, right there.”
Gosling is in top form as K, a confused member of a future society where one’s sense of identity can be a very confounding thing. His home companion is a very 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.
The film has a few flaws. Jared Leto, while not awful, pours it on too thick as Niander Wallace, creator of replicants. And while the film’s finale is fine, it doesn’t live up to the preceding excellence.
These are minor quibbles, because the wonders that Blade Runner 2049 delivers far outrun the missteps. Villeneuve has done the legacy of Blade Runner supreme justice with this offering. I actually doubt Ridley Scott could’ve directed this better.