Thirty-five years ago, Ridley Scott dropped Blade Runner on us—one of the more celebrated films not only in the pantheon of science fiction but in all of movie-dom. Though some viewed it as frankly a little tedious at times (yes, I’m one of “those people”), there’s no doubting it’s standing in the annals of pop culture. Harrison Ford (between his turns in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi) starred as Rick Deckard, a former LAPD cop called back to duty to hunt down replicants created for slave labor. Deckard, however, ends up falling for a refined replicant named Rachael (Sean Young), and the film ends with the two of them heading off together to greener pastures.
Thirty years later in the Blade Runner chronology, a new-model replicant named K (Ryan Gosling) is continuing Deckard’s work, tracking down older replicants to “retire” them. After his latest quarry is dispatched, K makes a grim discovery, setting in motion the events of Blade Runner 2049. And in an effort to make the experience as spoiler-free as possible, that’s about all I’ll give you, save to say that eventually K has to track down Deckard to unravel a secret that K’s lieutenant (Robin Wright) claims will “break the world.”
Director Denis Villeneuve, who is rightfully earning his spot among the best, most incredibly groundbreaking directors working today, shepherds the proceedings with the same eye and talent that he displayed in 2013’s gripping Prisoners, 2015’s Sicario, and last year’s brilliant Arrival. He is a man of singular genius, and he makes Blade Runner 2049 one of the most memorable and visually stunning films of the year.
Not only does he successfully transport us back into the same world that Scott first introduced back in 1982, but he actually improves on it, outshining the original film.
With the gifted cinematographer Roger Deakins by his side, crafting light and shadows and water reflections into nothing short of pure art, Villeneuve has created a modern-day masterpiece. All that remains is for the Academy to finally pull its head out of its collective butt and gives Deakins—after 13 nominations—a long overdue trophy.
The script by the original film’s scribe Hampton Fancher and Logan’s Michael Green is the deep and thought-provoking next chapter in the world that author Philip K. Dick first created. Never for a minute does anything feel forced or like it’s riding the coattails of the original. It’s a seamless continuation of a groundbreaking story.
Gosling anchors the film with the same quiet intensity that he’s brought to 2011’s Drive, whether he’s getting beat up (which happens often) or trying to develop a relationship with his hologram girlfriend Joi (a luminous Ana de Armas). And when he finally gets to share the screen with Ford (almost two hours in), it’s a match made in Blade Runner heaven.
The supporting cast is also noteworthy, including Jared Leto as the new head of the replicant-making operation, Wright as K’s sympathetic boss, and Mackenzie Davis as his underworld ally. And a couple of fantastic, well-placed cameos will have Blade Runner fans geeking out like it’s 2019 in dystopian Los Angeles.
Everything comes together to be more than enough to not only appease the throngs who screamed “blasphemy!” at the announcement of a Blade Runnersequel but to also bring a whole new set of fans into Deckard’s dark and rain-streaked world. Not only is it a perfect follow-up to a classic, it’s an instant classic in its own right.
Worth the 3D glasses?
Villeneuve and Deakins actually go to great lengths to make sure it’s worth it to pop those plastic specs on. There’s more than enough eye candy to justify the extra few bucks.