A sprawling sci-fi spectacle that honors and expands upon the original, but also plays like a brainy art house indie on a big budget. At two-and-a-half hours plus, it will test the patience of those looking for an easily digestible entertainment. 4 out of 5.
It’s thirty years later in filmmaker Ridley Scott's dystopian vision of Los Angeles, first seen in 1982's cult classic Blade Runner. That original was set in the year 2019, just two years out from our present reality. Since that "future" bears no semblance to our current society (thank God), the world of Blade Runner has gone from being a dark possibility to a full-fledged alt-universe where it's now 2049. There are still Replicants (androids that are deceptively human) and "Blade Runner" police detectives are charged with "retiring" (a.k.a. killing) those rogue robots.
The models being executed, however, are limited to older ones from a generation ago, each living in hiding, hoping to never be found. The new Replicant models that have since emerged are safe because they've been given less freedom. Unlike their predecessors, the latest Replicants are programmed to obey human commands, thus neutering their free will, though they still express feelings and desires. Ryan Gosling plays Officer K, a contemporary Blade Runner for the L.A.P.D. When clues from a case link back to an old Blade Runner named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Gosling's K sets out to find the whereabouts of this fugitive detective who's been on the run since 2019 when he fled with an advanced Replicant named Rachel.
The dense plot and slow pacing will likely polarize audiences, but there's no arguing how stunning this movie looks. Vast in scope and rich in detail, every frame is sci-fi eye candy, even in all of its dreary rain-soaked gloom. Real sets and models are used extensively, minimizing reliance on digital effects. Compared to the original classic, the technology in this reboot displays a mix of next-gen advancements and first-gen ruins, as director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) – who takes the reins from Ridley Scott – completely immerses us into this singular world.
For devotees of the 1982 groundbreaker, Blade Runner 2049 goes beyond mere fan service to tell a story that’s inventively, intricately linked to the events of the first film. Although a viewer could follow this sequel's plot without being familiar with the previous one, an awareness of (and love for) the original will reap big rewards, making this long-awaited follow up all the more satisfying. It continues to explore themes of what it means to be human, our moral responsibility to artificially intelligent creations that live and feel like humans, and our historical impulse to enslave "lesser beings." The story provokes us to consider how effective the human race is at being gods, and the verdict isn't pretty. It also provides Gosling with an emotionally complex character arc. He imbues the film's cold, mechanized sterility with heart and soul. Ford, too, is given one of his more challenging parts in years, and he rises to that challenge.
This is a philosophical parable of existential angst, draped in blockbuster clothing. That's not a bad thing, per se, but it is an acquired taste. Yes, it works on that level, but that level doesn't always work for mass audiences (which is why the first film was a box office failure). There's a mystery to be solved here, which is intriguing, but viewers expecting (and needing) multiple high-octane, action-packed set pieces will be disappointed. The slow, patient pace will bore others. Action does spike from time to time, but this isn't a propulsive movie; it’s a contemplative one. If you don't find the people who inhabit this brooding, reflective character study to be fascinating, the spellbinding visuals will only satisfy for so long.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
No overt Christian themes are explored, but pondering the very nature of humanity leads to spiritual questions, reveals spiritual needs and voids, and presents various ethical, moral, and spiritual quagmires. Plus, in a story about creations, their creators, and institutionalized slavery (of androids), Christian metaphors can be gleaned, from a possible Moses parallel to a potential Christ figure.
There's a brief reference to a "Galatians Syndrome" that remains cryptic, but it's worth considering why the name of that particular epistle was chosen, especially for a book that defines the fruit of the Spirit, emphasizes grace, and proclaims in chapter 3, verse 28: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity, and strong language
- Language/Profanity: Only occasional profanity, but includes strong words. Three F-words. One S-word.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Male and female nudity of Replicant cadavers. Three brief moments of sexualized female nudity. A few moments of intimate kissing. Disrobing (without nudity). Scantily clad prostitutes. Silhouetted sex behind translucent glass.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Various acts of physical violence, including intensely brutal fights, occasional gunplay, and some stabbings/killings. Bloody, graphic wounds. Some human carnage resulting from explosions.
Drugs/Alcohol: Liquor is consumed briefly on a couple of occasions. Some cigarette smoking.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Diehard fans of the original Blade Runner, and those who prefer their sci-fi to be more thought-provoking than action driven.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: People who want their sci-fi to be packed with more thrills, who find philosophical ruminations to be boring and pretentious, or who are turned off by long, dark, bleak stories and atmospheres.
Blade Runner 2049, directed by by Denis Villeneuve, opened in theaters October 6, 2017; available for home viewing January 16, 2018. It runs 163 minutes and stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis and Dave Bautista. Watch the trailer for Blade Runner 2049 here.
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also publishes a movie blog that can be found at icantunseethatmovie.com, and is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."
Publication date: October 5, 2017
Image courtesy: ©WarnerBros./Alcon