Aside from two quotes that will be mostly meaningless in this context, this is a spoiler-free review that keeps the many secrets of “Blade Runner 2049” hidden.
“I’ve seen things you couldn’t believe… miracles,” a character laments in Denis Villeneuve’s uneven, but still extraordinary and evocative “Blade Runner 2049,” the belated sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece “Blade Runner.” Echoing replicant Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) similar sentiments of what humans can only dream of, but never fully experience, the expression of these words possesses both maddening frustration and unspeakable sadness.
Later, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) says sorrowfully, “Sometimes to love someone, you have to be a stranger.” Superficially unconnected, these sentiments are artificially fused by counterpart feelings of longing, desire, and detachment, key ingredients to understanding “Blade Runner 2049,” another philosophical provocation about what it means to be human and the transcendent, mysterious qualities of empathy.
Ridley Scott didn’t design the emotional, yet dispassionate “Blade Runner 2049,” but considering its reflective consideration of evolution, master, slaves, and creators — notions explored in his recent “Alien” prequels — the fundamental ideas find the legendary filmmaker’s DNA everywhere. You don’t have to dust too much to spot Philip K. Dick’s synthetic fingerprints too.
But ‘2049’ makes the case that Ridley Scott should step aside for new talents more than capable of dreaming within the moody world that Dick birthed, and the filmmaker delivered to the screen. Because through the nearly impeccable execution of “Blade Runner 2049,” French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve further cements his name as one of the best and most striking filmmakers working today. At the helm and in complete command of his movie with dark, ambient magic, Villeneuve crafts a mysterious noir thriller that pushes existential boundaries, and nails the essence of the “Blade Runner” spirit.
Swimming in secrets and connections to the original “Blade Runner,” attempting to address though not necessarily answer many of the questions raised in the original movie, ‘2049’ is a is a field full of landmine spoilers — some shockingly stepped on within the first few minutes of the narrative, while other stunning revelations are left in the dark until much later. To discuss means to withhold most details aside from a little context.
‘2049’ begins with Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a disciplined LAPD Blade Runner — one who “retires” replicants with extreme prejudice — who is moving around in the same dystopian avenues of “Blade Runner,” only three decades later. Somewhere in the ensuing years, civilization has suffered a blackout — a massive data wipeout — crippling the entire planet, throwing the world into chaos, and leaving a gaping hole in digitally recorded history. The Tyrell corporation has gone bankrupt and the Wallace Corporation, a new tech giant run by a new creationist visionary Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), has absorbed them whole, reviving the once prohibited Nexus replicant program.
Not much else can be revealed, suffice it to say K, already hunting down remaining replicants, uncovers a dangerous, long-buried secret and in trying to unravel the thread is thrown into an ever-expanding, spiraling mystery that takes many Earth-shattering turns.
Dimensionally, the aesthetics of the film are awe-inspiring and enriching, providing a haunting meditation on the soul. The world building of this futuristic megapolis is an exhilarating symphony of breathtaking visuals, combined with a blazing music score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, and incredibly rich VFX, manufacturing a sleek and stylish setting. Venerable cinematographer Roger Deakins should be showered with all the awards, as his work supports the existential anxiety seething through the film. His atmospheric gaze is breathtaking, and in fairness to his competitors, the category of best DP at the Oscars might as well be closed.
As gorgeous and enigmatically enthralling as “Blade Runner 2049” is, the movie isn’t without its flaws. Its slow burning pace hisses with a sense of dread and looming portent — Villeneuve’s bread and butter — but as much as its measured gait allows the viewer to immerse themselves into the story and allows the movie to fully breathe, the narrative introduces many of its elements far too late into the picture.
“Blade Runner 2049” is also aloof and chilly for at least half the film, echoing the disconnection and artificiality of the picture’s milieu and the emotionally uninvolved nature of replicant “skin jobs.” It’s an effect that’s distancing nonetheless, and when ‘2049’ rolls into its blistering and affecting third act, it’s just a hair less poignant than it could have been.
Even when the heady and unknowable mix of ideas in ‘2049’ becomes a little jumbled, Villenueve’s movie is still experientially rapturous, an intoxicating swirl of engrossing unease and the fearful ecstasy of seeing through to the other side.
Where do I come from? Where am I going? How long do I have? are the questions the movie poses when contemplating the self, mortality and what it means to truly feel love. Perhaps what’s missing is Roy Batty’s infinite sadness, a being who just needs more time, one more day, and the chance to witness one more miracle. Yet, through sheer force of filmmaking will and examination of what it means to be self-aware, Villeneuve’s towering picture still manages to inspire awe and contains profoundly beautiful moments.
“Blade Runner 2049,” may not fully answer the question of whether androids dream of electric sheep, but it presents future visions and faraway prophecies about humanity that one day may come to pass. [B+]