I didn’t think it could be done—that a decent sequel could be made of my favorite sci-fi film—but Blade Runner 2049 is not only much better than decent, it is an excellent film in its own right. Whew!
Ryan Gosling stars as K, a blade runner whose job, like Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in the original 1982 film, is to “retire” replicants—artificial humans who were engineered with superior strength to be used as off-world slave labor. When he makes a startling discovery during a job, his boss with the LAPD (Robin Wright) orders him to track down and destroy any evidence of the finding, as its revelation would be too shocking for people to handle. As K digs deeper and deeper into the mystery, he begins to question everything he has ever known.
Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created a stunningly beautiful film that builds on the groundbreaking look and feel of Ridley Scott’s original. Los Angeles is still dark, crowded and rainy (though it snows once in a while, too), with huge animated billboards augmented by gigantic interactive holograms. I’m pulling for Deakins to finally win a much-deserved Oscar after more than a dozen nominations. The soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer pays respect to Vangelis’s iconic music from Blade Runner, adding the chest-rumbling deep notes that Villeneuve loves.
Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green deliver a story that is simple enough but with several layers of depth that carry it beyond a basic detective tale. In particular, K’s relationship with the artificial Joi (Ana de Armas) raises more than a few questions about love, devotion and dependence.
At 163 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the longer films of the year but none of it is wasted. Villeneuve takes his time letting things develop, and this is such a gorgeous film that I could have sat through it a second time just to take in the visual splendor. It’s not a perfect movie, but as a sequel to one of the most influential science fiction films of the last century, it’s about as close as it can get. Word on the streets of Hollywood is that Villeneuve’s next project is Frank Herbert’s Dune. Based on the way he treated Blade Runner, I can’t think of a better person to take on the impossible.