Movie Review: “Blade Runner 2049”

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Sean W. Cooper, Staff Writer

“Blade Runner 2049” depicts a dystopian future in which replicants, humans artificially created by the Tyrell Corporation’s advanced bioengineering techniques, pervade society. Many of the newer models operate just as any other human would. However, many of  the models created before Tyrell went bankrupt, some years prior to the events of the film, have gone rogue.

K (Ryan Gosling) is himself a newer replicant model, at least ostensibly. He works for the LAPD as a “blade runner,” seeking to “retire” (i.e. exterminate) all of the rogue older models in Los Angeles.

While visiting a farm to retire one of these replicants, K discovers the remains of a female replicant who had died from complications in a caesarean section, which is alarming because it has been believed that replicants cannot procreate. Not only does he discover that this woman’s child is still alive, he also discovers that it could indeed be him, raising the question as to whether he is actually a replicant.

The greatest asset of “Blade Runner 2049” is that it starts out not as a sequel to 1982’s “Blade Runner” but as a different sort of continuation. At least initially, we are introduced to a film that expands on the universe of the original work, meanwhile offering a different generation of characters and maintaining the bleak, urban tone of the original movie.

We are drawn to Ryan Gosling’s character for the same reason we were drawn to Harrison Ford in the original: his classy but violent demeanor gives the film its grittiness. Director Denis Villeneuve only furthers this. He has proved his mastery in dark sci-fi before with “Enemy” in 2013; “Blade Runner 2049” is a longer and much more mainstream exhibition of his visionary talent.

We don’t see movies these days that are nearly this atmospheric. The most outstanding accomplishment by “Blade Runner 2049” is its ability to echo–and perhaps even build on–the grave atmosphere of the original piece.  Roger Deakins’s cinematography is absolutely glorious; an IMAX viewing of the film is a must, if only for this aspect. Better yet is the score, composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, which closely resembles (and yet greatly surpasses) Vangelis’s score for the 1982 film.

In other aspects, however, “2049” pales in comparison to its predecessor, as well as to our expectations of the new film. Oddly enough, the film seems to go downhill once Harrison Ford shows up to reprise his role as Rick Deckard, the hero in the original film. From there, it starts to feel like a direct sequel. I wouldn’t have found this so disappointing if the exposition hadn’t made me so eager to delve into K’s story.

Judging only the first half, we couldn’t have asked for a better continuation of the “Blade Runner” universe, but the shift in the film’s key focus halfway through is a bit jarring. It’s almost as if the two writers, Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original) and Michael Green, wrote two separate screenplays and then put the first half of one back-to-back with the second half of the other.

Whichever writer was responsible for the first half gets a gold star. Had the film continued on the route it started, I wouldn’t have minded sitting in the theater for 2 hours, 43 minutes; but after the turning point, this running time quickly becomes unbearable.