The first "Blade Runner" movie had a massive cult following. I am not part of that cult.
I did not watch "Blade Runner" when it was first shown in 1981. I only watched "Blade Runner" recently in preparation for this sequel. It was a beautifully made, moody, groundbreaking film. Having seen it, I recognize that most later movies that presented futuristic cosmopolitan cities featuring androids with artificial intelligence were all inspired by its radical vision.
If I were to produce a long-awaited sequel, I would have probably waited two more years to release it because the events of that seminal film happened in the year 2019. Los Angeles police officer Rick Deckard is a "blade runner," whose job was to find rebel bio-mechanical beings called replicants and kill them. However, Deckard fell in love with an advanced experimental replicant named Rachael, with whom he had sexual relations.
In this 2017 sequel "Blade Runner 2049," it was this intimate relationship between Deckard and Rachael that formed the vital connection between the two films. In the year 2049, 30 years after the events of the first film, K is a new-generation replicant built to be blade runner to destroy all previous replicant models.
After killing off an ex-combat medic replicant, K finds a buried box which contained the remains of a woman who died in childbirth 30 years ago. However this woman is a replicant in which childbirth was not supposed to be possible. In the face of replicant rebellions, all evidence of this discovery, including her child, should be extinguished. This investigation led a conflicted K to Las Vegas where Rick Deckard had been in hiding all these years.
Director Denis Villenueve's Los Angeles seemed bleaker, more empty than Scott's original vision of bustling metropolis as 30 years had passed since then. The sceneries we see were more of the typically dystopian scenery we have seen in other futuristic films in terms of the steampunk production design and the costumes of fur and leather. Roger Deakins' cinematography gave this landscape of the future a haunting vibrance. His scenes of K in the orange-tinged wasteland of giant stone women in stilettos and buzzing beehives, and in that strobe-lit nightclub with the hologram Elvis were surreal and bizarre.
The pace of the storytelling was very slow, which would definitely try the patience of some audiences who are not familiar with the premise of the first film. This pace was puzzling considering that the main plot only revolved about the Rachael's remarkable ability to reproduce, which was quite straightforward. Yet there were so many confounding details around that core to prolong the movie unnecessarily.
SPOILER ALERT from this point on.
It was odd how old man Tyrell was somehow able to develop this ability with Rachael 30 years ago (despite replicants then were complaining about their short life span), but Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his takeover company still cannot figure it out in 2049. They never come around to elucidating the science behind this old but remarkable technology, which Wallace now coveted in order to produce more replicants to meet the demands of the time (illogical as it was for a businessman like him). It was just a miracle we should simply accept happened, impossible as we knew it was. Aside from this, most scenes with Wallace felt wrong to me -- those glassy blind (?) eyes of his, his brutal misogyny with the "newborn" replicant, the overlooked detail in Rachael's clone.
Ryan Gosling had a seemingly blank face the whole film, yet with it, he can still convey loneliness and loss so well. That evocative scene when K believed that he was the missing child as he saw the date inscription under the toy horse was a quiet moment, but it was so full of aching and longing. That scene when Freysa (Hiam Abbass) tells him a dream-crushing piece of information, K was also silent, but Gosling's face was a poignant portrait of dashed hopes. I am not sure a replicant created for the sole purpose of killing can be expected to be imbued with so much sensitivity as Gosling projects, but I guess he was just following his director's instructions.
Harrison Ford gives a better, more emotionally convincing performance here as the old Deckard than when he last played another iconic absentee father, Han Solo. For me, it was when Deckard appeared on screen about one-and-a-half hours into the film that the whole story finally came to life. That intense conversation between Deckard and K (thinking this man could actually be his father!) about Rachael and the child, love and being a stranger was the best scene of the whole film. The way Ford was playing him, there was no way Deckard could be a replicant, no matter what some dropped clues may suggest.
Ana de Armas played Joi, K's hologram girlfriend. She was cute and perky as she was created to entertain, yet she was also capable of deep caring it seemed. After playing Antiope in "Wonder Woman" earlier this year, Robin Wright is playing another tough character in Lieut. Joshi, K's superior officer. Aside from courage, the two characters would also share the same abbreviated screen time.
Sylvia Hoeks was positively chilling as Wallace's violent girl Friday, Luv -- ruthless, heartless, deadly. She definitely woke the film up whenever she was onscreen. Swiss actress Carla Juri plays Dr. Ana Stelline, a immuno-compromised scientist in a sterile bubble whose job was to create memories for replicants.
There is no doubt that "Blade Runner 2049" is a visual spectacle. I am sure that all the technical awards next year will have it prominently on their nominations list in all award-giving bodies. Roger Deakins might just finally bring home his first Oscar for Best Cinematography after 13 unsuccessful tries.
This special film demands you don't tune out at any moment of its nearly 3-hour running time, lest you miss an important detail. However, those unfamiliar with the mythology and the style can be frustrated with all the long jargon-filled or philosophical conversations, as well as the glacial-paced unfolding of the main point of the story. This challenging film will make you think about it and read about it after you've seen it. It will make you want to watch it again. 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."