When "Blade Runner" was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in 1982, reviews were mixed, but science-fiction aficionados and fans of film noir were overwhelmingly generous in their praise. A good reason for that was due to the way screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, and director Ridley Scott, adapted the Philip K. Dick Novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" into a film that combined both genres, while breaking ground for what would be the future of science-fiction movies.
As a fan of science-fiction since I was a kid, and noir since my college days, I immediately fell under the spell of "Blade Runner," even if some story questions were left dangling. That didn't matter. What I carried with me from the theater after my first viewing, and still feel every time I see it, was the mood, the dense, atmospheric ambiance of what was happening on the screen. My only concern going into "Blade Runner 2049" was whether it could catch and match that tone, that vibe, and I'm relieved to report that the answer is a resounding yes.
This is exactly the movie that should follow "Blade Runner." With Ridley Scott on board as a hands-on executive producer, Hampton Fancher returning as one of the writers, the brilliant Roger Deakins replacing the late, great-Jordan Cronenweth as cinematographer, and Denis Villeneuve directing, the film is as visionary as its predecessor. It's classic and classy and serious-minded and spectacular science-fiction noir.
Thirty years after the events of the original, Los Angeles, which was first presented as an overcrowded, overbuilt, garish, environmental mess, is in much worse shape. It's darker, gloomier, rainier. Climate change (though it's never mentioned) has even led to instances of snowfall — extremely realistic snowfall. This film boasts a new heavily electronic and very percussive soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. But that's complemented by what sounds like direct quotes from the Vangelis music of the original.
The complex and, some will say, convoluted plotline begins with similarities between the two films. There are still replicants — human-like androids that were developed to do jobs people couldn't or wouldn't do. Their glitches, such as the tendency to rebel against humanity, have been fixed. But there are still some older models out there, quietly mixing in with the human population, and to assure order, there are still blade runners — cops who are sent on assignments to "retire" any remaining troublesome replicants.
A blade runner known only as K (Ryan Gosling) is sent by his no-nonsense boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) to check out and, if proven to be a replicant, deal with Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), who scratches out an isolated living as a protein farmer. But the routine mission turns into something else, providing the film with an introduction to a twisting storyline, a mystery replete with cryptic clues, dead ends, questions of who is and isn't real, and a much-expanded exploration of the first film's dealings with memories.
Gosling plays K in grim, brooding, determined mode, keeping his performance close to a one-note level, but is always convincing in the idea that he will carry out his assignment, no matter who he has to punch out or blow away. One of the clues he's following leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, looking pretty darn fit) who went off the grid decades ago and is hiding out in the remains of Las Vegas. Others in K's life include his girlfriend (Ana de Armas), who is a stunning piece of visual effects work; the cloudy eyed and megalomaniacal industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto); and a vicious replicant named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), who is on K's trail.
This is a haunting and poetic film, made all the more effective by a moving last scene that will render viewers silent, and maybe even cause some of them to shed a tear. About 30 minutes in, I already knew that I had to see it again, partly because the story is complicated and would need to be revisited to understand better, and partly for the sheer enjoyment of watching it.