Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 Reminds Us It Works Best to Mess with the Classics When There's Actually Something Wrong with Them | Arts

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 Reminds Us It Works Best to Mess with the Classics When There's Actually Something Wrong with Them

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PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.
  • photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
Blade Runner 2049
★★★★
Now playing

Blade Runner was influential and groundbreaking cinema, a science-fiction film noir that applied classic philosophical and religious themes, particularly on creation and mortality, to humankind’s technological and moral trajectory. It is also insistently inscrutable and bears the scar tissue of excessive, repeated editing, first in a futile effort to make the theatrical release more accessible and then to restore director Ridley Scott’s original narrative vision. Like its retrofitted future, the film is heady bricolage.

Set thirty years after the original, Blade Runner 2049 achieves the best of both worlds. The same basic premise remains: humans use replicants as slave labor, and as new versions are created, hunters known as blade runners are tasked with “retiring” the old rambunctious models. Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) directly incorporates events from Scott’s film, particularly the fate of former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch replicate the iconic synth-heavy score by Vangelis.

Moreover, Jordan Cronenweth’s visionary cinematography gets an eye-popping update from the incomparable Roger Deakins for his third collaboration with Villeneuve. The postmodern landscape ranges from neon-lit, chiaroscuro urban centers to the arid ruins of Las Vegas. Deakins relishes the technological possibilities of his futuristic playground—in one scene, a character has sex with a mysterious sex worker (Mackenzie Davis) shrouded by the holographic image of his ephemeral A.I. beloved, Joi (Ana de Armas). There’s something rotten in Hollywood if Deakins doesn’t finally win an Oscar.

At the same time, Villeneuve, working off a screenplay by Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher and Logan writer Michael Green, is given the running time (163 minutes) and creative control needed to fully,  seamlessly develop the narrative themes and characters within the immersive milieu. The protagonist is again a laconic blade runner, this time an obedient LAPD replicant who goes by the shortened serial number of K (Ryan Gosling). When K is later given the human nickname Joe, the allusion to Josef K, Franz Kafka's cipher of dystopian detachment, is made clear.

K makes a startling discovery that threatens to further blur the divide between humans and their flesh-and-blood avatars. K’s boss (Robin Wright) tells him to destroy the evidence. New replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, wearing milk-colored contact lenses and doing self-indulgent Jared Leto things), keenly citing a relevant verse in the Book of Genesis, wants to acquire the information needed to further enhance his product. K is caught in the middle of a race that eventually includes a journey of self-discovery.

Gosling is that rare actor who exudes charm and coolness while wearing them like a burden—he’s like Paul Newman in that way, or a young Harrison Ford. He’s the perfect receptacle for the anxieties arising from the relation between gods and their monsters in a world-weary world where drone warfare is waged by assistants while they get manicures and San Diego is the waste-dumping ground for Los Angeles.

Joy, like Joi, is illusory, reduced to sensory triggers like dispassionate sex, holographic steak dinners, and the flickering projections of Elvis and Sinatra in a derelict casino. Blade Runner 2049, like a next-gen replicant, doesn’t prompt the same fascination as its original version, but it’s an updated, more polished and accommodating product.


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