By Kim Hughes
Considering all that might have gone wrong with the hotly anticipated sequel to director Ridley Scott’s brilliant, beloved, and game-changing Blade Runner from faraway 1982, it’s astonishing that Denis Villeneuve not only didn’t stumble but filed a hat-trick in the process.
With Blade Runner 2049, the Quebec-born director makes revisiting the original essential, boldly recaptures (then expands) its signature look and feel while pushing the narrative forward in a way that’s at once logical and completely unexpected. Villeneuve had redoubtable help: Scott returns to exec-produce and screenwriter Hampton Fancher is also back. But still.
Troubling for reviewers, Blade Runner 2049 is boobytrapped with potential spoilers, and at a recent press screening, the film was bookended with pleas for reticence in describing characters and plot twists. So be it — who wants to be the knucklehead wrecking a cinematic gift 35 years in the making? A scan of the film’s Wikipedia page is not recommended.
What can be revealed is there in the trailer: like Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard before him, Ryan Gosling’s Joe is a Blade Runner whose job is to terminate Replicants — manufactured, human-like slaves who’ve become a liability to their corporately minded masters.
Joe’s Los Angeles of 2049 is a deteriorated version of Deckard’s from 2019, albeit still swathed in grimy damp and invasive outdoor advertising. But the startlingly gloomy backdrops evoke the same mood so finely calibrated in the original.
When Joe discovers a long-hidden and potentially calamitous secret, he must find Deckard, whereabouts unknown, to get answers. The rest of the sprawling story awaits anyone who can sit still for two and a half hours not including credits. Prefacing a screening with beer is also not recommended.
There’s much to recommend the film: Hans Zimmer's music (composed with Benjamin Wallfisch) marshals the eerily enveloping, sexy, synth-propelled wash of composer Vangelis’ stunning original score: a clear example of music adding dramatic contour to the scenes. The whole thing is beyond striking visually, from the enormous sets to the militaristic costumes to lighting which is always diffused.
Most astonishing, virtually anyone approaching Blade Runner 2049 — those who believe Deckard is a replicant, those who don’t; fans of the original with voiceover; devotees of the Director’s Cut; newbies without a clue about the original — will leave satisfied and entertained.
Yeah, I know that sounds impossible. But it happens here. And that’s why Blade Runner 2049 is not only among the year’s best films, but arguably one of the best sequels ever issued. Somewhere, Avatar’s James Cameron is watching closely and scribbling notes.
Blade Runner 2049. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison, Ford, Robin Wright, Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Opens wide October 6.