“BLADE RUNNER 2049”
“We’re all just looking out for something real,” says Robin Wright’s police captain in “Blade Runner 2049.”
Wright, an icy, steely actress seemingly born for the world of “Blade Runner,” is speaking to her replicant detective whose name is his serial number: KDC-3-7 — or “K,” for short (Ryan Gosling). But it’s a line that resonates beyond the robotic reality of “Blade Runner.” What contemporary moviegoer won’t nod with understanding?
Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi neo-noir original extracted the premise of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” — the horror of not knowing if you’re real or not — and overlaid it across an eerie and mesmerizing sci-fi void. Its slick surfaces and the synthesized score made “Blade Runner” a portrait of ’80s soullessness.
Denis Villeneuve’s impressively crafted and deeply respectful sequel, set 30 years later, has carefully preserved much of the original’s DNA. The photography, by Roger Deakins, is gorgeous, filled with stark perpendicular lines, glowing orange hazes and yellow pools of reflected light. And Gosling is a worthy heir to Harrison Ford.
But while “Blade Runner 2049” is something to look at, an overly elaborate script and some other bad habits common to today’s sequel machinery — such as glaring product placement — have broken the “Blade Runner” spell.
It may be too harsh to grade “2049” against the original, especially when so many copycats have since diluted its dystopian wonder. Yet while “2049” still stands out from the pack, it lacks the mystery of the original. Less punk-rock in attitude, it wants to connect the dots and illuminate backgrounds that stayed dark the first time around.
There are hints, one fears watching “2049,” of a “cinematic universe” scaffolding being erected. Scott is a producer this time around, with “Blade Runner” scribe Hampton Fancher co-writing the script with Michael Green. Scott instead went off to make “Alien: Covenant,” and there seems to be some connection between the franchises. There’s much of the same tiresome creation mythology and Christ imagery.
The larger apparatus detracts from what is, at heart, a detective story — and a fairly good one, at that. Like Ford’s Rick Deckard, K is a Blade Runner seeking out-modeled replicants to “retire.” But whereas Deckard’s identity was up for grabs, K is definitely a replicant. He undergoes “baseline” questioning after each mission to establish that he hasn’t started feeling emotions.
Then K stumbles on to a dead replicant woman who apparently died in childbirth. As Wright’s character puts it, replicant reproduction would “break the world.” Humans would no longer hold dominion over their disposable workforce; a rebellion would spark. If “Blade Runner” was the nightmare of being soulless, “2049” is the dream of being real. The search for the child from 20 years earlier sends K in strange places.
Questions of authenticity are everywhere. K’s lone companion is a holographic woman named Joi (Ana de Armas). He comes to believe in their relationship, only to look crestfallen at a billboard advertising her, reminding him that any feeling of uniqueness is imaginary, or a marketing gimmick.
It’s a question Villeneuve’s movie asks itself, too. A hologram of Elvis plays while a fistfight careens through a Vegas lounge. The late-arriving Harrison Ford is there in the flesh, but he’s coming off a “Star Wars” franchise that reanimated actors, including a dead one, in younger digital facsimiles.
“Blade Runner 2049” quietly ponders its own existence amid today’s blockbusters: Can a replicant movie be real?