The original 1982 Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, is set in 2019, a time when Los Angeles is a dark, dreary, and rainy place. The Tyrell Corporation has engineered “replicants,” human-like robots or androids sent into space to do our dirty work. But some replicants have rebelled and returned to earth. LAPD officer Rick Dekkard (Harrison Ford) is ordered to do his job as a “blade runner”—an official assassin—and “retire” them. The problem is, he falls in love with Rachel (Sean Young), a beautiful replicant (with 1980s-worthy shoulder pads and a hairdo to outdo Star Wars’ Princess Leia).
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, this sequel is set, you guessed it, in 2049. Los Angeles is even drearier, but also snowy now, and the Wallace Corporation has taken over from Tyrell to supply the world with fully obedient replicants. But some rebellious older models are still on the loose, and LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) pursues them with cold precision.
Officer K is in fact a replicant himself, the obedient kind. He clearly longs for more in his truly robotic life, a void somewhat brightened by his feelings for the lovely Joi (Ana de Armas). She is his holographic personal assistant, the Siri or Alexa of the future. K soon sets off to track down Rachel and Dekkard, and so discover the future of both humans and replicants.
To say more would give away too much of the plot. But as the promotional trailers already reveal, I can say that K meets up with Dekkard in his hideaway, and so the film creates a meeting between the leading men of cinema past and cinema present.
I’ll admit I was very excited to see this. Blade Runner was one of my favorite movies in the 1980s, and I saw all its many versions and cuts. On paper, Blade Runner 2049 looked perfect. French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Sicario, Arrival) was to direct Ryan Gosling (Drive, La La Land), two artists at the top of their careers. Yet, I left the theater unexcited and underwhelmed.
Blade Runner 2049 does look very, very good, with marvelous shots of a ravaged earth and a teeming Los Angeles, creating a blend of sophisticated technology coupled with terrible living and environmental conditions.
Villeneuve also knows how to pay homage to the original Blade Runner. In one scene, K and Joi zoom across the sky in his squad car and the score references Vangelis’ swelling synthesizer of the original. My heart also swelled with nostalgia.
But more often, I could sense my hand looking for the remote to speed things up. At almost three hours, this is a very long film. And while I don’t mind long films, I found the dramatic tension faltered too frequently, as the camera followed K, step by literal step.
On a positive note, Gosling brings a strong performance that moves, in one look, from detachment to sadness and then to hope. Harrison Ford is in good form, or at least seems a bit more on task than in recent Indiana Jones and Star Wars sequels. Jared Leto also appears as the extremely creepy Wallace, head of the replicant company. Robin Wright has a small role, too small, as Lieutenant Joshi, K’s boss. In the same way, the gorgeous and ruthless replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), has a fairly one-dimensional role as Wallace’s assistant. Both female characters highlight that dystopias are often a guy’s world.
If you are a Blade Runner fan, you have probably seen this film already and may very well disagree with me. And I say to you, fellow fan, yes, the sequel looks great, but does the plot hold together? Isn’t the entire plot frame rather clunky? More importantly, does the film have the same weight and depth as the original?
To the uninitiated, I suggest you watch the original at home and then see the sequel in a theater. The films touch on themes of oppression, slavery, environmental disaster, corporate greed, memory, identity, love, and loss, along with references to Frankenstein and the Bible. You will have more than enough to discuss over coffee. (Warner Bros.)