If there is one standout factor that raises Blade Runner 2049 above its predecessor is how well attuned it is to the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired it, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Indeed, the sequel to Blade Runner is better than the original. Not only does it bring humanism to the fore, thematically, it does so with a visual grandeur that spreads out the world of the first film. Harrison Ford, the original blade runner, a contractor who works for the police in hunting and “retiring” rogue androids called replicants, famously reappears in this movie, but it’s the new blade runner, Ryan Gosling, who carries the film. That’s probably all we are allowed to reveal about the plot, as according to Warner Bros., the studio handling the film’s U.S. distribution, allowed us a preview so long as we do not reveal the plot of Blade Runner 2049.
In a vague attempt at boiler plate, I will say, the film certainly offers some twists in plot that work best by not being spoiled. It also jumps into reveals very early on to provide context but without a winky attitude of fan service. This is an improved Blade Runner film ready to stand on its own because writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green have tuned so well into the replicants’ desire for humanity. They evoke pathos on a level that the original attempted but failed at. The replicants always had a sinister quality in Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie, something that two re-cuts (in 1992 and 2007) could never cushion. With Denis Villeneuve at the helm, there’s a much more introspective quality here. One disappointment, however, whereas Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, was dynamic and even lovable in the original, in this film Deckard feels a bit shoehorned into the narrative, and is the closest the film gets to stunt casting.
This is truly Gosling’s film, and he picks up the heart mantle with assured strength. In both films, the blade runners were hardly treated with empathy by other characters in the film. These guys have to play loners in a manner that speak to the cruel, judge/jury/executioner roles they must play in this future world but also exude the vulnerability that draws the audience in to care about them. Gosling’s simply named K does that terrifically assisted by contrasting supporting performances by women, including his love interest Joi (a charming Ana de Armas), his boss at the LAPD, Lt. Joshi (a steely Robin Wright), and a fearsome nemesis ironically named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).
This all unfolds across a lengthy running time of nearly three hours. Besides a few scenes that feel a bit dragged out, the duration merits the film’s plot twists. It also helps that the movie is so gorgeously lensed by Roger Deakins with sets that continue to stun as the story develops. As I noted earlier, the world feels expansive, and it’s even hard to notice where physical sets end and digital effects begin. Whereas the first Blade Runner movie relied on a dense amount of extras to show how crowded Los Angeles has become in this future, the sequel shows how sprawling it’s all become with an incredible attention to texture and detail. Coupled with music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch that grows patiently more intense as the movie unfurls, the movie never feels dull, however. So, yes, Blade Runner 2049 is impressive to experience on that superficial, theatrical level, but where it ultimately transcends its package is in its thematic concern of what it means to be human. Even in its twists in plotting, the movie plays with expectations in a way that speaks to an innate desire to matter in this world: to dream of a better place, to be loved and to have a personal history.
Blade Runner 2049 runs 163 minutes and is rated R. It opens wide in most theaters and in IMAX on Friday, Oct. 6. In our Miami area it will play at the Landmark at Merrick Park, the CMX Brickell City Centre, as well other multiplexes. We were invited to a preview screening at AMC Sunset Place’s Dolby Cinema, where the sound effects of this movie shook the rafters. Visit the movie’s official site and enter your zip code to find the theater nearest you.