'Blade Runner 2049' plays homage to the past, but doesn’t replicate its narrative
Blade Runner 2049
4 out of 5 Stars
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, Philip K. Dick (based on characters from the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?")
Starring: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Synopsis: Thirty years after the events of “Blade Runner,” a young blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), investigates a new replicant threat.
Review: I’ve told the story before, but in a sense I grew up on “Blade Runner.” Not in the sense that it was ever present, but because I saw it once while at daycare and spent a decade afterwards trying to figure out the ideas contained in what I had seen. I understood the Star Wars franchise, but “Blade Runner” was something that seemed to be beyond my adolescent sense of the world.
Decades later, I’m still fascinated by “Blade Runner.” At its core the film is a detective story, but the themes that surround the various character motivations are what continue to resonate in me. I love the protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), but it is ultimately his antagonist, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), that gives the narrative its strongest moments.
“Blade Runner 2049” is a natural extension, both visually and thematically, to “Blade Runner.” It is, however, a completely different film that sacrifices the original’s simplicity to weave a rather tangled web. “Blade Runner 2049” feels more scientific than spiritual. In “Blade Runner” Decker felt trapped in a claustrophobic world that was slowly disintegrating around him. “Blade Runner 2049” offers a view that takes our protagonist, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), to areas outside of the city. This allows the film to have its own and often unique landscape, but in doing so the story loses some of the intimacy of the original. Likewise, the implications of the film’s narrative are much larger in scope. Where “Blade Runner” felt like a story that could be swept under the carpet, “Blade Runner 2049” feels like headline news.
While I prefer the approach of the original film, I’m not put off by how different “Blade Runner 2049” is. Quite the opposite; it intrigues me.
In 2015 we saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a film that stoked the flames of a fandom, but liberally lifted elements from “Star Wars: A New Hope.” There’s plenty of shared themes and a general sense of homage in “Blade Runner 2049,” but you’d never confuse one narrative with the other. Yes, this new story relies a bit too heavily on misdirection and sadly it lacks an antagonist as strong and persuasive as Roy Batty, but there are some fantastic moments, strong ideas, numerous surprises that help to lift the film above its weaknesses.
Director Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival") and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created a gorgeous world that is built directly on the futurism of the original. Technology has advanced, but not at an unrealistic rate. It’s still a disintegrating world held together by its megalopolises. Outside the city walls is a wasteland of twisted metal and refuse. A bleak and lawless world that plays foil to tightly packed and patrolled urban skyline.
I love that Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the "Blade Runner" script) and Michael Green haven’t strayed from the pacin
g of the original film. I was worried that they might be tempted into turning the film into an action adventure, but that is not the case. This is very much a slow burn with occasional bursts of violence.
The cast is very strong with Ford giving one of his better performances. Gosling is appropriately detached, Ana de Armas is bewitching and its fantastic to see Robin Wright in another strong role.
“Blade Runner 2049” won’t have the cultural impact that “Blade Runner” did, but it is a solid sequel that expands on many of the ideas that were presented in the original film. It’s not nearly as effective, but I certainly didn’t leave the theater feeling disappointed. I’m interested to see how well the film holds up after multiple viewings. Will it unravel without the element of surprise or will it prove to be a complex puzzle I’ll spend decades trying to decode? I’m guessing it will be somewhere in between.