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BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a worthy predecessor to the original because it is original while paying homage to its roots…

Posted on October 9th, 2017
Posted on October 9th, 2017

by Coop Cooper

Considered one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, the original “Blade Runner” (1982) starred Harrison Ford as a policeman in 2019 Los Angeles assigned to seek and gun down fugitive ‘replicant’ androids who are nearly undetectable from humans besides their superior strength, intelligence and lack of emotions. The film was heralded for its stunning visual style and film noir detective story transplanted in a sci-fi setting. Despite being a box office bomb, the film gained cult status and is considered one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time. Now it finally has a sequel after thirty five years. Although it isn’t perfect, I’m glad to say the sequel does honor to the original by once again showing the audience something they’ve never seen before.

In 2049, much has changed in Los Angeles since 2019. Replicants are once again legal on Earth but they operate under strict protocols and must pass ‘baseline’ tests in order to prove their emotions are not compromised, lest they face execution. They are also looked down upon as second-class citizens and treated with scorn by most humans. Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner for LAPD and while tracking down an old android named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), he uncovers a secret or a ‘miracle’ kept hidden by an underground android network. Ordered to destroy all traces of this secret, K soon discovers his own personal connection to the conspiracy which puts his own life in jeopardy. His only hope is to track down Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who may be able to lead him to the truth. Hunting them both is the sadistic head of the corporation that creates replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and his lethal replicant enforcer, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) who want the miracle for themselves.

First let’s talk about what doesn’t work: Jared Leto. Mercifully he is only in two scenes but they are the two worst scenes in the film. His character is terribly written. Supposedly he is a genius who saved the planet from starving, yet he sadistically likes to kill his own replicants for fun while speaking in monotone riddles. Yet Leto’s acting makes the two scenes even more insufferable to sit through. The way he toys with people and barters for souls, I half expected him to sprout horns and a pointy tail. It was simply too over-the-top. Other than him, the movie is a near masterpiece, aided in part by the stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins who would win an Oscar for this film in a perfect world.

Fans of the original “Blade Runner” probably have nit-picky issues and a few dashed expectations. I know I had a few, but what it does show us is totally original. The 1982 film was a blueprint that set up a visually stunning world but didn’t explain much about it. The sequel shows us more of that world and what it does show us is exciting and new, yet still feels very much like it fits within the mythology of the original. I remember being disappointed that the original never gave us a chase in those flying cars. We get a lot more of that in 2049. We also get a character who is looked down upon even more than the replicants and that is Agent K’s holographic girlfriend (played beautifully by Ana de Armas) who seems to have more realistic emotions than anyone else in the story. In fact, the scenes in which she appears are usually the most interesting and visually experimental.

Likewise fascinating is Sylvia Hoeks who plays a particularly evil replicant who kills out of pure hate and envy. When she lets down her emotionless mask to show her true self, the transformation is intimidating. I also appreciate that Harrison Ford managed to show some life in his performance, probably because he was allowed to be genuinely grumpy and confrontational, which suits his current personality better. Gosling is fantastic as usual, echoing his subtle performance in “Drive” (2011) where he barely has to move his face at all to express what he is feeling.

I’ve heard some critics say the film starts off strong and begins to fall apart halfway through. I agree the first half is more interesting, but I was still heavily engaged all the way to the end. Its long running time – 164 minutes – might be a deal-breaker for some and the content might be challenging, particularly for people unfamiliar with the original. However, the film accomplished what it was meant to do and director Denis Villeneuve can consider it a critical and a potential cult success, even if the box office numbers tell a different story. Telling more tales within the “Blade Runner” universe is a enticing prospect for fans considering all we got between the two films was a poorly-written computer game back in 1997 and a series of novels not written by the original author Philip K. Dick. There was also an unofficial ‘spinoff’ film titled “Soldier” (1998) starring Kurt Russell but it only had vague references to the original film and no solid connection story-wise, plus it wasn’t a success. I’m afraid we won’t get anymore of it again for awhile, but thankfully, “Blade Runner 2049” does the franchise justice and stands on its own at the very least as a technical accomplishment.

Rating: 4 and ½ out of 5

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