Nearly four decades after Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi noir masterpiece, “Blade Runner,” wowed audiences with its visual magnificence, narrative sophistication and thematic depth, a sequel is finally upon us in the form of “Blade Runner 2049,” starring Ryan Gosling and original cast member Harrison Ford, and it’s every bit as brilliantly bleak as the original.
Passing the torch along to director Denis Villenueve (“Arrival,” “Sicario”), one of modern cinema’s great visual storytellers, this stunning sequel is sure to dazzle the sci-fi and action contingent, though its leisurely pace and lengthy running time may prove grueling to some. A visual feast from start to finish that features some of the most impressive imagery of 13-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins’ storied career, and featuring an unforgettably unsettling score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, “Blade Runner 2049” is a sensory-arousing sensation that will leave viewers riveted by its technical brilliance and narrative ambition. From Hampton Fancher and Michaeld Green’s thought-provoking script and Dennis Gassner’s ingenious production design to the exceptional acting from the lead and supporting players alike, this long-awaited follow-up fires on all cylinders and definitely lives up to expectations.
Set in a dystopian Los Angeles circa 2049, three decades after the original 2019 setting, the film follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a “blade runner” tasked with hunting down and “retiring” bioengineered beings, otherwise known as replicants. A state of the art Nexus 9 replicant himself, as a blade runner, K’s specific job is to kill off the previous version of replicants, Nexus 8’s, due to their open-ended lifespan and alleged involvement in a disastrous electromagnetic pulse detonation on the West Coast.
While going about his perilous mission, Officer K unearths a mystery dating back thirty years that has explosive and potentially earth-shattering implications, implications that call mankind’s conception of humanity into question. While wrestling with the existential questions posed by his discovery, K tracks down, and teams up with, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner forced into hiding whose prior involvement with the replicant-manufacturing Tyrell Corporation provides crucial insight into the mystery at the story’s center.
Director Denis Villenueve uses the cinematic tools at his disposal to probe the nagging question at the heart of the mystery – what does it mean to be human? – with expected brilliance, given his prior success in investigating similar questions of human nature in films like “Arrival” and “Prisoners.” What most impresses is Villenueve’s ability to incorporate these heavy questions into an engaging storyline that, while undeniably long, moves with assurance and deliberateness while furthering the narrative in a way that satisfies its legion of fans. And while Villenueve’s confident directorial touch ultimately steers this sequel to success, the filmmaker receives vital assistance from his celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose third pairing with Villenueve will almost surely deliver his fourteenth Oscar nomination and, hopefully, his first win. Equally impressive is the awe-inspiring craftsmanship of production designer Dennis Gassner, which goes a long way in bringing to life the dystopian hellscape presented onscreen, and the evocative, arguably overwhelming score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, which works wonders in achieving the film’s eerie tone.
As for the cast, portraying the biorobotic blade runner who may or may not possess a soul, Ryan Gosling excels as the stoic replicant around which the story unfolds. Gosling has portrayed similarly emotionless characters before with arguable success in the Nicolas Winding Refn films “Drive” and “Only God Forgives,” but here the effect is jarring, partially because his character showing even subtle emotion has far-reaching narrative implications. Returning to one of his most memorable roles as original blade runner Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford isn’t necessarily afforded the screen time one would hope but he still delivers his most spirited performance in years. For supporting roles, Jared Leto projects appropriately antagonistic vibes as mad scientist Niander Wallace, Robin Wright brings her “House of Cards” gravity to the role of Lieutenant Joshi, and Ana de Armas (“War Dogs”) is surprisingly touching as Gosling’s holographic lover, Joi.
Infinitely more intellectually stimulating than your average sci-fi thriller, “Blade Runner 2049” explores existence with style and sophistication.
By Lucas Mirabella
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Running Time: 163 minues