35 years ago, director Ridley Scott blessed us with a sci-fi movie that, to this day, is still one of the most beloved works in the genre.
“Blade Runner,” based on the Philip K. Dick novel, is a futuristic film noir starring Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, an officer in the LAPD who works a specific beat: tracking down rogue “replicants” (bioengineered androids who work as slaves on off-world colonies). On the streets, he’s called a “blade runner.” By the end of the movie, Deckard falls for an advanced replicant named Rachel (Sean Young), which causes him to become a fugitive as well.
Scott’s vision of a dreary Los Angeles in the future, mixed with the cinematography of Jordan Cronenweth, and the synthesized score of Vangelis, gave us a sci-fi movie that — five years after the release of “Star Wars: A New Hope” — was as technically advanced, but grittier than George Lucas’s Buck Rogers-inspired space opera. And story-wise, “Blade Runner” was more layered than Scott’s other sci-fi landmark, “Alien,” three years earlier.
So that’s the kind of greatness director Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario,” “Arrival”) was up against when he signed on to make a sequel to “Blade Runner.”
“Blade Runner 2049,” opening in theatres on Friday, is a tremendous achievement by a director who is quickly becoming one of the handful of filmmakers who can bring an auteur vision to Hollywood blockbusters. But it’s extremely difficult to compare it to the original.
The movie opens with us being introduced to a new blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling). The year is 2049 and things have gotten even more complex in a decrepit Los Angeles. The replicants are more advanced, but there are still those older models running around unaccounted for, which K seeks out.
I don’t want to give too much away because you should really go in fresh to appreciate the movie, so here’s the bare-bones version: K discovers information in his latest case that leads him on an investigation that will redefine the replicants, and take him to the whereabouts of Deckard.
Gosling delivers another powerful performance by doing something that he’s quickly become the master of: minimalist acting. K, like Deckard, works alone. And though he wants desperately to have a relationship, all he has is a beautiful computer-generated woman (Ana de Armas) who greets him when he gets home every night. The inner turmoil of K’s life and profession is displayed by Gosling with looks and few words.
Now, for some actors this type of style could come off as lazy and uninspired — and put audiences in a snooze. But Gosling does it in a way that, when his character explodes with emotion or a fit of rage, it’s exhilarating to watch. If you loved Gosling in “Drive” (and tolerated him in “Only God Forgives”) then get ready to see the perfect chill Gosling performance.
What Gosling lacks in energy is made up for with an ear-drum busting score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, along with lush cinematography by the great Roger Deakins.
While the first “Blade Runner” explores LA with mostly night shots and a handful of wide exteriors, Villeneuve (who previously worked with the legendary DP on “Prisoners” and “Sicario”) has Deakins go crazy in “2049.” Thanks to the technology since 1982, we see the world through epic vistas and rich colours. And in paying homage to Scott (who is a executive producer on the movie) a good amount of rain. Does Deakins deserve a long-awaited first Oscar for his work on the movie? Yeah! But I feel I’ve been saying that about almost every movie he’s done in my lifetime.
Don’t expect anything earth-shattering with the performance by Ford as Deckard. He shows up, does his Harrison Ford thing (like hit Ryan Gosling in the face … a lot), and gets the job done like a pro. Honestly, there wasn’t much more he could do in this movie.
There are a few head-scratching moments with the plot. Mackenzie Davis’ Mariette role is forgettable. I still have no clue what purpose she served in the story (which is sad, because Davis deserves better). And Jared Leto as the overseer of the replicants, Niander Wallace, is just a few scenes of some A+ scenery chewing. There are moments when it almost seemed Villeneuve was letting Leto go full Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” with his performance, as Leto goes off on tangents and is shot in shadows.
I left watching “2049” feeling extremely satisfied. With a running time of over two and a half hours, you have the feeling that you went through an epic journey by the end. This is definitely an event movie. But I also felt that I saw something that was so distant from the original in story, style, and structure that it’s unfair to connect them.
Sure, there are moments that “Blade Runner” fans will fully appreciate, but I’m going to keep the original on high and celebrate “2049” for its own individual strengths.
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