By Andrew Cripe, Movie Critic
“Blade Runner 2049” is less a sequel to the 1980 Ridley Scott film and more of a tribute to Andrei Tarkovsky's meditative science fiction films, “Solaris” and “Stalker.” Which is to say, holy cow, this is a good film. It is a gorgeous desolation-poem, boasting countless memorable scenes and performances that are nothing short of gripping.
This isn't just a special film; it is the rarest kind of film, one that may not be seen as the year's best but will probably be talked about, re-watched, and dissected more than any other released in 2017.
The movie is set in the not-so-distant future, where humanity has created android slaves that look just like humans. The ones that don’t adhere to a life of servitude are labeled Replicants, and are considered dangers to society. Their hunters are called Blade Runners.
In “2049”, we follow a Blade Runner named 'K' played by Ryan Gosling in a role so quiet and intense viewers may be reminded of his performance in 2011's “Drive.” 'K' is a loner and consummate professional. His boss, Lieutenant Joshi (played by Robin Wright), orders him to assassinate a rogue Replicant. From here, 'K' begins to unravel a tragic mystery, one that involves everyone from a prostitute, Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), to the man who mass-produces the android slaves, Wallace (a chilling Jared Leto) and his secretary, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).
Of course, if you've watched the trailers for this film, you know that Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard (the protagonist of the 1980 film), but Rick's real purpose in the story is something no critic should reveal.
The 1980 Ridley Scott adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was praised for injecting moody noir elements into a genre that was typically known for space-fights and aliens. Now, decades later, director Denis Villeneuve kicks the darkness up to eleven.
This film is pitch-black, despairing, and incredibly depressing at points. But Dennis Villeneuve is a master of making troubling subject matter extremely compelling: “Incendies” (2010) dealt with torture, “Prisoners” (2013) with child-abduction, “Sicario” (2015) with revenge, and “Arrival” (2016) with humanity's possible downfall. “Blade Runner 2049” takes all of these themes and runs with them, and though it occasionally slips and falls, the audacity of its reach far exceeds its grasp.
The story is dense and unforgiving. Over the course of 164 minutes, it threatens to throw impatient viewers off the roller coaster, but those who stick with it will be rewarded. Devastation, love, loneliness, and the fabric of reality itself are all explored by screenwriters Michael Green (“Logan”) and Hampton Fancher (the first “Blade Runner”).
But what everybody is going to be lightning-struck by is the visual language of it; this is unlike anything else out there. Every frame of the “Blade Runner 2049” is painterly and awe-inspiring, leading a viewer to believe that cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Skyfall,” “The Shawshank Redemption”) sold his soul to get this film to look as good as it does. The visual effects team clearly crafted this fascinating world with a painstaking, borderline sadistic attention to detail. Everything about the look and feel of this film is expansive yet overwhelmingly claustrophobic in its loneliness, but it’s so well made that you'd be hard pressed to look away.
Between this and Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!,” 2017 has been an extraordinary year for daring cinema, and whether or not “Blade Runner 2049” is a total minute-to-minute success is besides the point, the fact we are even getting movies like this is a cause for celebration. These aren't films that will send you on your merry way. Instead they challenge, provoke, and twist your expectations until something--anything--snaps.
In terms of ambition, Villeneuve is chasing the tail of Stanley Kubrick while still paying homage and even improving upon Ridley Scott's legendary first film. As bleak as “Blade Runner 2049” is, the overall experience is not despairing. The sheer magnificence of its craft will inspire anyone with even a passing interest in how real films are made. See it, then see it again.