Blade Runner 2049
2017, R, 163 min. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 6, 2017
It’s not often a studio rep reads a pointed, preshow directive from a filmmaker to the critics assembled to view the movie. Alfred Hitchcock warned audiences to please not give away the secrets of Psycho, but Denis Villeneuve’s orders were more succinct: Tell no one anything about the recursive, thoughtfully rich plot of his sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece. This was prescient on his part, because the moment you exit Blade Runner 2049, the urge to discuss its labyrinthine, Russian nesting doll storyline – credited to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green – is immediate and profound. So I’ll just skirt around the edges of this remarkably smart and emotionally charged sequel and say that not only is it a worthy companion piece to the original, it’s even stronger and more assured in places. I’ll be back watching it after it opens in theatres, just to kick back and let the experience – director of photography Roger Deakins’ vast, sumptuous visuals, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s mesmerizing score, and of course the tour-de-force performances from leads Gosling, Ford, and Ana de Armas. It’s that good (and I rarely watch new movies twice).
What I can tell you is that the world in the year 2049 is exponentially worse than in Scott’s original, multicultural, neon- and rain-drenched loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel. The Tyrell Corporation, manufacturers of the renegade robotic replicants that cop Deckard – or blade runner in the film’s parlance – pursued is long gone, along with much of Los Angeles, the victim of a mysterious “blackout” that has rendered the Bradbury Building and surround environs into a dusty orange hellscape. Gosling’s “K,” himself a replicant blade runner, continues hunting down the scattered and hidden renegade “old models,” including, early on, the hulking Sapper Morton (played with grim, sorrowful gravitas by Bautista), who’s now working a farm in what appears to be the middle of a desert. It’s on that farm that K discovers a perplexing clue literally buried in the ground, which leads him into direct conflict with more powerful corporate interests. His boss at the LAPD, Lieutenant Joshi (Wright) urges him on even as other forces conspire to keep him from unraveling a secret that, in the words of one character, “will be the end of everything.” K is dogged in his pursuit of the truth because, he suspects, it may relate to him personally, and because he’s a stubborn cop in the manner of Deckard’s own post-neo-noir gumshoe. I’ll say no more.
Blade Runner 2049 is chockablock with rich philosophical questions of what it means to be human and where the line between human and machine blurs into an unrecognizable haze. There are layers upon layers of subtext to dig through, but the film is never a slog even at over two-and-a-half hours. Deakins’ cinematography is achingly beautiful, so much so that many still images from the film wouldn’t look out of place hanging on your wall, and are almost certainly more eye-catching than anything you’ve got hanging there now. Coupled with Dennis Gassner’s magisterial production design and a score that both recalls Vangelis' original while still riveting in its own right makes the movie a genuinely immersive experience. I didn’t see it in 3-D or IMAX, but I suspect that viewing Villeneuve’s film in the latter might likely induce vertigo, given the massive, throbbing canvas that Blade Runner 2049 plays out against.
Is it a perfect movie? Not quite. The middle section drags a bit through no fault of the excellent performances, but ultimately it’s all of a piece, and the mid-mark pacing turns out to be a relatively minor quibble. Inarguably 2049 is an intellectually challenging film that rewards viewers with a host of new and interesting ideas, vis-à-vis man and machine, past and future, and where “the self” resides. The long wait is over, and Villeneuve’s film rewards fans’ patience in all manner of ways.