‘Blade Runner 2049’ Is A Gorgeous Return To A Wearisome World

It’s unusual that Blade Runner 2049 even exists. When the original Blade Runner was released in 1982, it was considered a mild disappointment. At the time, Harrison Ford was on his way to becoming the biggest star in the world; look at this run from 1980 until 1984: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The second lowest-grossing of those, worldwide, was Temple of Doom, which made $333 million. Blade Runner grossed $33 million. It’s a disappointment even if you don’t take into account director Ridley Scott’s prior film, Alien, had been an enormous success.

In the 35 years since its release, Blade Runner has achieved cult classic status – due, in part, to multiple, better cuts of the film being released and Harrison Ford’s legendary, god-awful, voiceover being dropped as well as a terrible ending that ends in a car on a scenic drive – then somewhere along the line over the last ten years or so, the “cult” has been dropped and it’s now been anointed a plain ol’ “classic.” So, in that respects, in this era of franchise and reboots, I suppose it does make some sense that a movie considered a classic will get itself a sequel. But Blade Runner is such an odd bird of a movie. It’s beautiful, in the ugliest use of the word “beautiful” (I watched the 4K release the same day I saw Blade Runner 2049 and the new transfer is absolutely gorgeous), but it’s also slow and it feels like an honest to goodness chore to make it through without at least a couple times thinking about what errands you might have to run later that day. It’s a movie I certainly appreciate, but don’t love. And my gosh, I have tried to love Blade Runner. It’s a movie that in theory I should love, but I just can’t get there. (Also, try tweeting that you aren’t 100 percent in love with Blade Runner. People will yell at you.)

But I do wonder how many average moviegoers out there in 2017 have either seen Blade Runner, or, more importantly, remember Blade Runner. Because the world of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 has a very specific tone, and if someone isn’t prepared for that, well, Blade Runner 2049 might be a pretty long two and a half hours. (Oh yeah, it’s actually a little longer than that. You might want to use the restroom before it starts.) This is a world basically without humor. Blade Runner is set in 2019. Could you imagine anyone who lives in the Blade Runner universe watching Girls Trip? (Which, in 2019, I assume will be streaming on every platform and be playing in a constant loop on HBO so I don’t know how these Blade Runner citizens can miss it, even though there’s no way they will ever watch it because all they do is frown.)

The original Blade Runner introduced us to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, a blade runner who has been assigned to hunt down and “retire” a group of replicants that have escaped their off-world home of slave labor and have returned to Earth in an effort to extend their predetermined death dates. During his investigation, he meets Rachael (Sean Young), a highly advanced replicant with whom he falls in love. On the surface, it’s a simple enough story – but the story has been complicated by the later cuts of the film, putting into question if Deckard himself is human or a replicant. In interviews, Ridley Scott has been pretty clear that Deckard is a replicant and Ford is adamant that Deckard is human because Ford played him as a human. (I wish a law could be passed that says only Scott and Ford are allowed to debate this topic.)

Now here we are and 35 years have passed in our time and 30 years have passed in Blade Runner time (you see, all that frowning has made time go much slower for those folks) in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. (I say this every time, but I believe Villeneuve is one of the best filmmakers working today. If you haven’t seen Enemy, you should see Enemy.) Now, here’s where things get tricky: Warner Bros. doesn’t want any real plot details out there (even details we find out very early in the movie), to the point that NDAs were involved before press saw this movie. So if it appears I’m being vague, yes, I’m being vague.

Don’t let the two names on the marquee fool you, this is Ryan Gosling’s movie and he’s in pretty much every scene. If he’s not in a scene, then he either most likely just left the room or is on his way. Gosling plays Officer K, a Los Angeles blade runner, just like Deckard many years before. (I do wish a letter that was not used by Men in Black would have been picked, but “K” it is.) The blade runners are still hunting down advanced replicants that don’t have expiration dates from an era that occurred right after the original film. Officer K is investigating a replicant named Sapper Morton, played by Dave Bautista (replicants do all seem to have really fun names) and it’s this encounter that that thrusts K on the journey he will face for the rest of this very long story. And it’s probably no surprise that K will spend the whole film wrestling with his own identity and what’s real and what’s not – only probably not quite in the way you think.

It’s this mystery that K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright, who is having a great year) wants squashed at all costs. On the flip side, the Tyrell Corporation from the first film is long gone and the scraps have been purchased by a biological farming company owned by Wallace (Jared Leto) – who also gets wind of this “mystery,” but wants it for himself, sending his own replicant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to bring it back for him.

So that’s basically your vague premise for a movie that’s 163 minutes long: K is in search of something; his boss wants it destroyed and a business tycoon wants it for himself – all the while K wrestles with what he should actually do. Harrison Ford’s Deckard isn’t the mystery that I am trying my best not to address, but his role in the film is that he has information on how to solve this mystery. And, yes, it takes awhile for the movie to get there. If you’re going to see Blade Runner 2049 based solely on the fact you’re a big Harrison Ford fan, I checked the time and he doesn’t show up until about 100 minutes into the movie. (Or, roughly, a little bit longer than the entire run time of The Emoji Movie. Maybe Deckard is watching that for the first two-thirds of this movie. Maybe that’s why he frowns so much.)

Blade Runner 2049 is gorgeous. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has shot what is one of the most beautiful movies ever made, and yet somehow he still won’t win an Oscar this year because life is cruel. It’s a brighter movie than the original. The dingy police headquarters of the first film – that sometimes felt like it might be more appropriate for a movie like Cobra than something set in 2019 – have been replaced with something more sterile. It’s always overcast, but a lot more of the film takes plays during the day – and not always in Los Angeles – which opens up this world in a way we didn’t see in the first movie. And Hans Zimmer’s score just beats you into submission in a way I don’t now how to make sound positive. But it’s the score you probably think you remember from the first film that isn’t always the case. If you rewatch the first movie you’ll notice weird moments, like when Deckard and Rachael start kissing and the score has that over-saxaphoned sound that would make more sense in something like Arthur. (Also, the shirts that Deckard wears in the first movie are almost laughably ‘80s. It’s like Deckard moonlights as the bass player for Spandau Ballet. It only gets a pass because for most of the movie he’s wearing a cool jacket.)

But there’s just something about Blade Runner 2049 that stuck with me in a positive way that the first one didn’t, no matter how hard I try to love it. The tone of Blade Runner is still very much present: it’s slow and deliberate and no one seems happy, just like it should be if you’re recreating this world. And there are parts that drag. (This would not be a Blade Runner movie if it didn’t drag at times.) But I found myself feeling more invested in the story than I ever was with the first movie, and a big reason for that is Gosling. Look, no one loves Harrison Ford as much as I do (I will allow that some people like him just as much as I do), but maybe Deckard, in the original film, wasn’t the right fit for him. In a film that’s so devoid of emotion, having a character who kind of just plays it straight is maybe a detriment. It’s subtle, but there’s more emotion in Gosling’s performance. It’s all little things, but they add up over the course of 160 minutes. There’s a humanity in Gosling’s K we haven’t quite seen before in this world of frowning people and weirdos. And it’s those little, subtle inflections that makes Blade Runner 2049 a success.

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