Review: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ a Worthy Successor to Sci-Fi Classic
Go figure: the best love story of 2017 is between a robot and a hologram.
Time will tell if Blade Runner 2049 stands up alongside Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, which wasn’t exactly well-received upon initial release but has gone on to become a classic in one of no less than five different versions available on home video.
In any version, narrative and structural flaws are present. But it’s vision of a futuristic Los Angeles was so dazzling - and unlike anything that had come before it - that many came to embrace it. And it brought a thoughtful, intelligent approach to a genre that often lacked it, thanks to Philip K. Dick’s original short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The good, and the bad, about Blade Runner 2049, is that it accurately re-captures the feel of the original film: striking visuals, thought-provoking content, and a plodding storyline destined to test some viewers’ patience.
Many critics, expectedly, are praising the visuals of the film while raising issues with the storytelling. This is, after all, a 163-minute “experience” with the plot of 75-minute detective story; the other hour and a half is a lot of Ryan Gosling wandering around in stark futuristic environments.
In 2017, however, every big budget science fiction movie - many of them highly-influenced by the original Blade Runner - looks like this. The visuals in Blade Runner 2049 are no more “impressive” than those in the derided Ghost in the Shell remake, though the artistic approach taken here by director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins certainly serve them a lot better.
What I found great about Blade Runner 2049 were not the good-looking visuals, but the human story contained at the heart of the film. Or rather, the robot one.
One of the favorite fan theories about the previous film was that Harrison Ford’s titular character - a detective who hunts down rogue androids (here called ‘replicants’) - was in fact an android himself (and fans may pleased to discover how the theory is handled in this movie).
In 2049, there’s no question: in the film’s very first scene, we learn that Ryan Gosling’s ‘K’, who hunts down rogue androids, is indeed an android himself.
It’s some 30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner, and the old generation of rebellious ‘replicants’ has been replaced by a new one that follows orders much better, created by the Tyrell-like Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).
Some of the new replicants are also 'blade runners' themselves, including Gosling’s K, who hunts down remnants of the old androids for LAPD chief Lieutenant Joshi, nicely played by Robin Wright in an unusually nuanced role.
K somehow stumbles onto a long-buried secret that involve… well, something that everyone in the movie gets all hot and bothered about. And yet, the film gets all shy about explaining the details of what, exactly, went down, and why it's significant. Suffice it to say that it leads K to track down some of the characters from the last film, including Rachael (Sean Young), Gaff (Edward James Olmos), and finally Deckard, as Harrison Ford shows up about two hours into the film.
None of this meant a whole lot for me, but here’s what did: the relationship between the replicant K and his artificial intelligence companion, a hologram named Joi played by Ana de Armas. It’s a Her-like thing that doubles-down by having both characters be artificial, and yet it works surprisingly well.
In fact, all the A.I. material here is incredibly well-handled, thought-provoking in ways that make the original film seem simplistic by comparison. Gosling’s character is ostensibly the focus here - and even has his own Last Temptation of Christ-like storyline - but de Armas made the biggest impression on me, and even the villainous replicant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), has moments of great insight. She seems evil in ways that feel human.
If you’re worried about Jared Leto’s eccentric weirdo getting in the way, he only shows up for two scenes, spouting nonsense that the casual viewer can safely ignore.
Like the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is likely to spur debate and heated discussion and crazy fan theories. Whatever you ultimately think of the film - and some will hate it - it’s one that any film lover simply has to see, and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.