“Blade Runner 2049” achieves something rare in a sequel:
Paying reverent tribute to its beloved predecessor, the film also emerges as its own distinct and original work of art.
In fact, were it not for a shockingly leaden pace -- which results in a near three-hour running time -- this would be a masterpiece.
Even with that, it comes pretty close.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic stars Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, whose unsavory job is to hunt and kill renegade androids in post-nuclear-holocaust Los Angeles.
In the new film, Ryan Gosling plays a younger blade runner who is himself an android (known here as "replicants"); tidying up a few remaining hostiles from the earlier bad batch, he stumbles on a secret that could turn humanoid robotics upside-down.
And then he begins to suspect that he has some personal connection to the secret.
In addition to this dandy plot, “2049” features jaw-dropping visuals which never look like they came from a computer. Much of this is due to the use of miniatures and models, which created such a such a palpable texture in the first film. Not to mention many massive and detailed sets clearly built from scratch for this new film.
Its reported budget was $150 million, and every penny is up there on the screen. It ought to be an Oscar shoo-in for its baroque yet meticulous production design; and can we now please give cinematographer Roger Deakins a long-overdue Oscar for his excellent work here!
Time and again, “2049” deliberately reprises the earlier film, often placing similar scenes at the same approximate spot in the narrative. Yet it also stakes out entirely new territory. Where the first movie asked whether humans were androids, here we are asked to consider whether an android might be human
Or take this scenario as another example: Gosling’s replicant has a holographic girlfriend who is clearly in love but cannot be physically intimate with him. The eventual resolution of this dilemma, while morally murky, is both audacious and deeply moving; and unlike other less discreet scenes in the film, this one achieves its effect without recourse to graphic nudity.
Ana de Armas is amazing in this role. And she’s not the only android who subjugates herself for others -- a tendency which again sets this film apart from the first one. It’s especially touching to watch Gosling -- normally so suave and cocksure -- look downright timid as he works to help humans. I’m not sure he or Ford have ever been better.
In all this, “2049” most fully distinguishes itself from the earlier movie by winding up as a beacon of hope and compassion after a couple of nifty plot twists; and then at the end, there’s a hint of ambiguity about Gosling’s character -- one that echoes the original’s open ending but again, goes in a different direction.
If you loved the first movie, you’ll love this, too. Despite the fact that several scenes could be trimmed for a quicker pace, “Blade Runner 2049” is daring, thoughtful and gorgeous sci-fi at its best.
“Blade Runner 2049,”
directed by Denis Villeneuve
Run time: 164 min.
* * * 1/2 (out of four)
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language