Harrison Ford is back, alongside Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto and Robin Wright, in Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. For committed fans who have patiently waited 35 years for a sequel to Ridley Scott’s mesmerizingly lento sci-fi landmark Blade Runner, the good news is that helmer Denis Villeneuve achieves something very close to the same narcotic effect in Blade Runner 2049. The problem is that 164 minutes occupy the distance between that beginning and end.
The opening few minutes offer the immediate assurance of being in good hands. California by 2049 has turned far more toxic and congested than it was in 2019 envisioned by the first film in 1982. Ravishing images reveal a thick, smoky atmosphere through which you can barely see; population density in the vast expanses of Los Angeles 32 years hence makes modern Sao Paulo look like a ghost town; and atmospheric cooling, not warming, has asserted itself, to the point where snowfall in Southern California is not uncommon.
Any direct description of motivations or dramatic events in Blade Runner 2049 is bound to excessively clarify things that almost invariably remain cryptic and hazy in the film itself. There are rumors of a pregnant replicant, which K’s boss, police lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), denies ever happened, and we meet Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), an attack dog in the guise of a very tough babe who works for Wallace.
There’s welcome time spent on the dark streets of L.A. that both remind of and expand upon similar scenes in the original film. The now-retired Paull’s extraordinary work on the original has been expanded upon by the resourceful present production designer Dennis Gassner and his team with what looks like more extensive sets here — plus a much denser skyline.
Still, after about an hour of this, you begin to wonder where it’s all going and how long it’s going to take to get there; the answer to the first question is somewhere interesting, but it’s going to take quite a while. In stories with complicated narratives, epic scope and plentiful engaging characters, extended running times are welcome.
Around the 90-minute mark, with K’s arrest, matters become dramatically muddled and confusing, and as one tries to sort things out, another issue presents itself: what ‘Blade Runner 2049’ inevitably lacks compared to its progenitor is a sense of the shock of the new, perhaps the principal factor that made the original so important to its fans at the time.
What 2049 eventually offers in its place is the shock of the old, that being the re-emergence of Ford as Deckard. Having disappeared and successfully eluded authorities for decades, this old cop, who supposedly has the solution to creating more replicants that Wallace so desires, makes it instantly clear to the young cop that he’s none too pleased to have been found. Grizzled and ferocious, Ford’s Deckard practically dispatches K on the spot, but then they decide to have a drink and things begin to get interesting, not the least with the surprise appearance of a thespian who is decidedly not mentioned in the cast list but comes out of left field to jaw-slackening effect.
Everyone involved in this imposing enterprise has clearly dug deep to be both true to the original and to come up with sharp ideas to create something more than a retread. Leto achieves the desired weirdness level as the corporate genius behind the upgraded replicants, while Wright performs as a top cop.
All manner of superlatives can and will be bestowed upon the fabulous design and technical hands who contributed to the film’s spectacular look, which is consistent with the original just as it expands upon it. In addition to the extraordinary work of Deakins and Gassner, special citations are warranted for Renee April’s keen-eyed costume design, which is persuasively more rooted in the real world than in some sci-fi universe, and John Nelson’s gargantuan visual effects.