It took me more than two decades to fully appreciate Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi game-changer. I was flummoxed by the film when I first saw it as a teenage cinephile, partly because star Harrison Ford’s studio-mandated narration was and remains atrocious, and partly because the film’s bloated reputation didn’t prepare me for such a minimalist and mercurial mood piece. Where I expected epic chases and fight scenes, I got epic Vangelis and meditations on memory and existence.
As Scott released one Blade Runner recut after another over the years, excising the tin-eared narration and ending the story on a much harsher note, my appreciation for the film began to grow. By the time he made it to The Final Cut in 2007, I was fully on board, and while I don’t consider it a masterpiece, I am an unabashed Blade Runner fan. I appreciate Ridley Scott’s 1982 original at least well enough to recognize the blunt, turgid travesty that is Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.
Possibly the least provocative provocateur in contemporary cinema, Villeneuve (Prisoners; Arrival) is the modern master of empty, thundering portent, and the dystopic future world of Blade Runner gives him a gigantic space to practice his darkly didactic arts. So long, mystery and sensuality! Hello, world-building mythology and plot, plot, plot! I am reluctant to dismiss any macro-budget Hollywood production with more on its mind than franchise management, but I don’t think that’s the case with Blade Runner 2049.
For all the film’s self-announced importance, the prime directive here is creating a viable Blade Runner cinema universe for future exploration, while tying up “loose ends” from the original. More a straight sequel than a reboot, Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years later, in a world where a new messianic technocrat named Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, bad) has replaced Tyrell, creating a breed of obedient replicants (i.e., slave-labor robots with artificial intelligence) to replace their revolutionary forebears.
Meanwhile, Earth remains a rainswept, neon-lit shithole, a refuse pile for the remains of humanity unfit for off-world colonization, and blade runners still hunt and “retire” rogue old-model replicants.
Ryan Gosling plays a young blade runner named “K,” sporting an updated model of Harrison Ford’s brown trench coat, and living out a similarly lonely and booze-soaked existence. K shares his home with a female companion named Joi (Ana de Armas), but I’m not supposed to talk about that.
In fact, according to a “Studio Directives” list passed out to critics, there are many things I’m not supposed to talk about. One directive forbids me from mentioning the defining trait of the protagonist, a “spoiler” revealed in the opening minutes. I might be stepping over the line by even mentioning that Blade Runner 2049 has a protagonist, or that the protagonist has been an essential element of drama since the Greeks.
I’ll play the game and preserve the plot of Blade Runner 2049, but it will take me at least another two decades to appreciate it.