It is hard to believe it has been 35 years since Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking and, as it turned out, enormously influential 1982 noirish sci-fi landmark Blade Runner. That movie was only intended to be a one-off and not a franchise, but the world being as screwed up as it is, a revisit to this particular dystopian vision of our future is probably a good idea — even as we are still two years away from the events of the first film set in 2019.
Plot-wise, Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 years later in Los Angeles and the old Nexus 8 replicants are being rounded up and replaced by new Nexus 9 models that are meant to be the ultimate in cooperative yes men and women, artificially intelligent beings who do as they say. Ryan Gosling plays K, a Blade Runner hunting down the Nexus 8s as we see near the beginning of the film when he tracks one named Sapper (Dave Bautista) and engages in an uber-brutal fight to take him out. But then he stumbles on a secret that is an important key to the future’s future, and it leads him on a hunt for the original LAPD Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, who has disappeared and is in hiding somewhere. Thankfully Harrison Ford is back to reprise the role he made famous all those decades ago, and for seeing him expertly slip back into this memorable character the new incarnation from director Denis Villeneuve proves to be worth the wait, even if it has its flaws.
Chief among those as I say in my video review above is an overly long and drawn-out running time of 2 hours and 44 minutes that could have used some trimming (the original was just under two hours). The storytelling takes its sweet time and quite frankly can be a bit confusing to see where it is all going, but maybe that’s the point. At the small press screening I attended, a Warner Bros publicist read a letter from Villeneuve asking critics not to reveal plot details of the film in their reviews, something he noted might make it more difficult for them to do their job in talking about his film.
To tell you the truth, even if I was submitted to waterboarding techniques I probably couldn’t reveal the details of this byzantine plot. Suffice to say the deliberately paced film really comes alive once Ford comes on board about an hour and a half into it. I wouldn’t dare talk about where K finds him, or what iconic pleasures Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher (who wrote the original) and Michael Green have dreamed up from Philip K. Dick’s initial inspiration that led to the first film. These scenes are surreal delights, and Ford proves every inch the movie star he is. He also is a fine actor and his presence in scenes opposite the coolly effective and brooding Gosling (back in Drive mode) are there to be relished.
I have never really bought into the idea that the original Blade Runner was all that deep. It was, however, a visual powerhouse laying out a future Los Angeles that was about as dazzling a vision of a society on the edge as had been seen up to the time. Since 1982 it has been copied in countless other movies (most recently the flop Ghost in a Shell), but you can’t top Scott’s blueprint. Wisely, Villeneuve doesn’t try to do that in taking the story forward, but his smog-infested and snowy Southern California as presented here makes a strong case not for the effects of global warming, but rather global cooling. Spoiler alert: It snows in L.A. in this thing.
Oscar nominations all around for the impressive technical artistry on display including Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography and Dennis Gassner’s inventive production design. The score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, who replaced Villeneuve’s long-favored composer Johann Johannsson during production, is the perfect complement to what’s on screen in this epic art house action picture with a budget of $150 million according to Sony, which financed with Alcon Entertainment.
Aside from Gosling and Ford, there is a fine supporting cast including meaty roles for several women. Ana de Armas plays Joi, K’s Nexus 9 companion; Robin Wright is his no-nonsense boss Joshi; and best of all is the terrific Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, who works for Marshall, the blind entrepreneur determined to bring the Nexus 9 project to fruition — he’s played with eerie authority by Jared Leto. Villeneuve, who has given us a series of masterfully crafted movies in recent years including his Foreign Language Oscar nominee Incendies, Prisoners, Sicario and last year’s cerebral and spiritual alien drama Arrival, does not stint from a style heavily influenced by European cinema. He lets his story play out in specific beats which may be too slow for some who just want to get on with it. The film looks splendid and certainly will spawn discussion. That’s probably enough.
Warner Bros is the domestic distributor through their deal with Alcon, while Sony using its Columbia Pictures label has the rest of the world. It opens Friday.
Do you plan to see Blade Runner 2049? Let us know what you think.