Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
It's been 35 years since the original "Blade Runner" hit theaters, and after watching it's subsequent companion subtitled "2049" - it almost feels like we've never left. The enigmatic universe that created a society built on humanoid/robot beings dubbed "Replicants" and the "police officers" hired to track them down and "retire" them called "Blade Runners" was a refreshing dose of reality, and the sequel more than lives up to those standards. The directing torch has also been passed down to canadian auteur, Denis Villeneuve (the man behind such gems like "Sicario" and "Prisoners" but also last year's Oscar darling "Arrival") with original mastermind Ridley Scott taking a producing credit. Now "Blade Runner 2049" arrives on the heels of a timely premise, with a visual aesthetic that's so undeniably gorgeous, you mine as well hand cinematographer Roger Deakins the Oscar now.
This time, stepping in for Harrison Ford as the poster boy is Ryan Gosling, whose old-but-new temporary replicant named Agent K (an obvious Easter egg to the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired the source material) takes center stage. Gosling hardly leaves the screen, with about 93% of the screen time for the films bloated 2 hrs and 43 minutes. K is the last of a dying breed, who lives and dies by his code, under his fearless leader, played with a high velocity of sneer by Robin Wright Penn. K is considered a replicant, whose forced to sit down and take assessments to determine if he stays on his "human/replicant" baseline without tethering too far over the edge. He's forced to single out key words, while a computer module screams sentences at him. But he's got the morales of any human being, forcing him to constantly think of his place in society. He goes home at night to a sexy hologram called Joi (Ana de Armas) - a paid for real life Siri. Armas is a solid performer, however, the character doesn't get much to do. This romantic subplot will easily bring up comparisons to Spike Jonze's "Her."
Without divulging too much information, K finds himself in a peculiar situation, when, after a brief rundown with a farmer (played by Dave Bautista), discovers the bones of a replicant that could be "the end of our world" - K's Chief screams. Forcing his hand into a rather tricky spot. Since it's been 35 years since Ford's Rick Deckard was in charge, some things have changed. For instance, the Tyrell corporation has gone bankrupt and has found new leadership in the tyrannical mad scientist, Niander Wallace - (Jared Leto - with just the right amount of cheese, he doesn't become the movies biggest punchline) - who has a vision for a replicant army that mimics some of the turmoil facing our country today. He doesn't register as much as a villain, as he mostly sends out his assistant, Luv (Sylivia Hoeks) a replicant herself, to keep tabs on K's ongoing investigation. Which leads him back to Deckard himself (Ford, who doesn't show up until close to the two hour mark).
It's no secret that Ford shows up in the film, he's all over the marketing. And like he did with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" he's once again stepping back into an iconic role. And he and Gosling have a square jawed chemistry that adds the perfect amount of spice to the "1984-esq" society. And with Villeneuve in the chair, I was never worried about the content of the picture, which is presented in a highly intoxicating glossy palette of colors. The main problem is Villeneuve gets caught up in his own emotions that he gets lost along the way. With a 163 minute running time, you really need to understand what you're getting into. This isn't your typical big-budget action blockbuster.
There's action, but when it happens it's brief and brutal. After all, the original film wasn't built on the foundation of bare knuckle throwdowns. "2049" is uncompromising and uncommercial, and requires your immediate concentration and for fans, the payoff feels like a lucid dream that hinders on the idea of morality in humans. For folks unfamiliar with the franchise, watching Gosling's character ride the wave of self discovery is insanely rewarding. It's a film that will demand repeat viewings to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
By the end, even if the steady flow of eye candy visuals outpaces the narrative, "Blade Runner 2049" still persists with a refurbished authenticity. Not only does the film live up to the hype surrounding it, the movie reminds us that science fiction can still exist to tackle big ideas. B+