Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

The sequel to the 1982 sci-fi film has been worth the wait

Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
With Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

The future looks pretty bleak in Blade Runner 2049, with a Los Angeles that seems to be constantly stuck in an endless rainy night. There is some contrast. Vast fields of solar power towers, orange deserts and desolate mountains of garbage that feral people sort through.

The long-anticipated follow up to director Ridley Scott's 1982 neo-noir sci-fi film Blade Runner takes the action 30 years into the future. Blade Runner took place in 2019, which is right around the corner — though the real world has not caught up with the film's vision of technology. Ryan Gosling plays K, a police officer who we find out right away is a newer model replicant. He is tracking down older model replicants. The Tyrell Corporation of the original film is gone, and a new company has taken over production.

Harrison Ford gets very high billing in the credits, and he does reprise the character of Rick Deckard, an officer who hunted replicants in the original film. His role is substantially smaller than Gosling's, but more than just a brief cameo appearance to get his name in the credits.

The story delves deeply in film noir territory, with the detective following leads into the darkest corners of society to look for answers that nobody wants to give, to questions that nobody should ask. Exactly how the new action all ties into the original is revealed relatively slowly, and the plot is a bit byzantine.

K as the replicant police officer gives a suitably blank performance, pressing on in his mission but betraying just hints of emotion. His biggest connection is a projected hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas).

Blade Runner 2049, like its predecessor, is as much about style as substance. The vision of the future, due to new techniques like CGI and a much bigger budget, is even grander and more complete than the originals. Los Angeles is a vast, overpopulated hell of neon and projected holograms. Official buildings and corporate headquarters all have the look of brutalist monuments.

The visual design of the film is absolutely stunning, with great attention paid to the minor details.

The endless rain and snow create a mood of despair; the future is a place where the sun seldom shines. That mood is boosted by a depressing score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.

Some of the scenery, especially in the later part of the film, takes on a surrealistic aspect, with incongruous oversized ruins against an orange sky.

In the story, screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who worked on both films (along with Michael Green on the sequel and David Peoples on the original) manages to address some philosophical questions about what it means to have a soul, and what being real means. But the story doesn't get caught up in too many long-winded speeches. There is nothing like the classic speech that Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) gave in the original. The characters this time seem a little terse and broody.

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve made last years' sci-fi hit Arrival, as well as the crime films Sicario and Prisoners, as well as the surrealistic Enemy. In some ways, he was the perfect choice for Blade Runner 2049, a surrealistic sci-fi crime film. All of his previous films have has a strong visual element, which is at the core of the two Blade Runner films.

It is hard to say that the sequel is better than the original, but certainly, it presents a larger and more fully realized vision of the same dystopian future. The film is rather long, at 163 minutes, but doesn't drag. There are no surprise scenes hidden in the closing credits.

Ridley Scott, who made the first film, served as executive producer of the sequel, and spend years trying to get the project made. Filming took place in Hungary. A Czech firm, UPP, did some of the CGI special effects but for reasons of not spoiling the plot the exact ones can't be disclosed.

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