Starring: Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Harrison Ford
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”)
Written by: Hampton Fancher (“Blade Runner”) and Michael Green (“Logan”)
Depending on how invested you are in filmmaker Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi/film noir classic “Blade Runner,” its sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” by Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”), will either surpass your expectations or be, at least, a worthy companion piece that adds to the original’s expanding mythos.
Clocked at a hefty 163 minutes, “2049” revisits a dystopian world where androids known as “replicants” are hunted down and destroyed by cops known as blade runners. Two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) stars as “K,” a blade runner who is searching for the original blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) to get some answers he needs to solve a case. Jarred Leto slightly hams up the screen as a corporate villain who wants to create more replicants to do as he pleases.
First, Villeneuve, along with 13-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, who should pick up his first win ever this year if the Academy feels he has suffered long enough, creates a futuristic setting brimming with brilliance and style. Visually speaking, this is Villeneuve’s best work, which speaks volumes since every one of his prior films is memorable for the tone and look he gives the picture.
With “2049,” Villeneuve has more storytelling devices and tools at his disposal and the extra resources are evident in the way he and Deakins layer each scene to perfection through color and structure. This is especially true with the technology featured. While many of the ideas don’t necessarily feel groundbreaking (Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” felt more ahead of its time when it was released in 2002), Villeneuve’s vision is one of the filmmaker’s best assets.
Gosling’s laid-back demeanor can, at times, feel a bit canned, but when the script allows him to show some range, he owns his leading-man status fairly seamlessly, especially when playing opposite his hologram domestic partner Joi (Ana de Armas), whose AI-inspired character is breathtaking to behold. The love scene between Joi and K is depicted beautifully.
Still, despite its flawless atmosphere, “2049” doesn’t tighten up its convoluted script enough to make the storytelling as intriguing as it is picturesque. Questions arise about what makes someone human – emotions, memories, an actual body – but there is little room for an in-depth exploration of these interesting themes. If you consider the original film the mold from which every other sci-fi movie since has blossomed from, “2049” will have you hooked from the start. For everyone else, it’ll probably be an improvement from the first but still too familiar to leave the same kind of lasting impression the original has earned over the years.