“Blade Runner 2049” is the rare sequel that is at least the equal of its iconic original. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
The future is gray.
The color of fog, shrouding everything. The color of smog, chokingly ever-present. The color of a world in decay. The color of ambiguity.
Neither black nor white. Somewhere in between.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Blade Runner 2049,’ with Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, from a screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. 160 minutes. Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language. Several theaters.
The color of “Blade Runner.”
The color scheme was established in 1982 when Ridley Scott’s pathbreaking sci-fi classic was released. It’s the color scheme adhered to by director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) in “Blade Runner 2049.”
The perfect color scheme for a picture whose characters are ambiguous to their cores. Who is a human? Who is a replicant — human in appearance and biology, but produced in a lab and created to do the dirty work humans don’t want to sully themselves with?
Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher, who co-scripted the original, and Michael Green keep the audience guessing. Their characters, too.
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Is Ryan Gosling’s blade runner, a hunter/destroyer of replicants who go rogue, a replicant himself? He’s not sure. And what about Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford’s craggy blade runner from the original, back in the sequel? Same conundrum. Fans of the earlier picture have debated for years about the true nature of Deckard’s character.
The essential question, posed in the first “Blade Runner” and amplified in “2049” is: What makes us human? A character says it’s that indefinable something, the soul. The state of replicant technology, much advanced in the 30 years since 2019 (the time period of the first movie) is such that perhaps the concept of soul is outdated.
What separates the two, according to the malevolent industrial genius Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) single-mindedly intent on making replicants more than human, is the ability to reproduce. That feature is his holy grail. And that’s what drives the story of “2049.” Out there, somewhere, he believes, is a replicant’s child. He wants it found at all costs.
The picture is a detective story, with Gosling’s blade runner, called K early on and Joe later, trudging the fog-shrouded, rain-soaked streets of oppressively crowded and dingy Los Angeles and environs. He doggedly digs for clues that might lead him to the rumored child. The chief key, he believes, is Deckard, who went missing 30 years ago. K sets out to track him down.
In the tradition of a classic film-noir detective, his demeanor is impassive and his speech terse. Deckard likewise. They’re peas from the same hard-boiled pod.
Most of the other characters are similarly grim, including Joe’s cop boss (Robin Wright) and Wallace’s lethal right-hand woman (played with quiet ferocity by Sylvia Hoeks).
The restraint of the performances is in sharp and startling contrast to the visual aspects of the movie. Villeneuve’s 2049 is deeply imagined and incredibly detailed. The work of cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner give the picture an expansive feel, with vast sets full of obscuring shadows, and, in the case of Wallace’s aerie, copper-hued shimmering surfaces.
In terms of the imaginative ways it expands on the themes of the first movie, it is the rare sequel that is at least the equal of its iconic original.