Review: 'Blade Runner 2049'

Cult classic sequel fills the screen with mesmerizing dystopian vision
Denis Villeneuve, director of 'Blade Runner 2049,' channels Tarkovsky and Kubrick in cult classic sequel.

August Andquiet, occasionally full of pity and violence, Blade Runner 2049 overwhelms: it's a technical juggernaut, orchestrated to the bone-rattling sonics of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the sound of some giant rubbing a pair of ocean liners together. Director Denis Villeneuve blends the solemnness of Tarkovsky and the studied blandness of Kubrick, with the same lack of dynamism he demonstrated in Arrival.

This movie called Blade Runner has very little running in it. The soundscapes will keep people from drowsing, as Ryan Gosling—playing K, a synthetic cop—doubles-down on the minimalism he displayed in Drive. Reprising his role as Deckard, a welcome Harrison Ford brings his own humanity to a movie peopled with grim synthetics.

The 1982 original was the most Marxist of science fiction epics, about a slave revolt, directed in a style between film noir and science fiction. Ford's lonely policeman pursued these artificial slaves: the replicants. This time around, it's more Dick than detective, questioning overlaid false memories over other overlaid false memories, as in Philip K. Dick's works.

It's been some 30 years since Deckard and Rachel (Sean Young) escaped L.A. and headed north, as anyone sensible would do. The sunless megalopolis has grown in vastness and darkness, the streets now as wide as air shafts. It rains white ash—maybe the remains of the Sierra forests? Monsoons have led to the erection of seawalls along the coast.

The old line replicants with their four-year lifespans and their tendency to go rogue are almost all gone. Their manufacturer, Tyrell, has been engulfed by the Wallace Corporation: they manufacture Nexuses, who are docile, and with human lifespans. No doubt "K" is a Nexus—we can tell from his lack of emotion as he untangles the mystery of a box of dry bones, found buried at the farm house of a dead replicant (Dave Bautista—our new Ernest Borgnine). These bones are the relics of miraculous android. K's cold, hard-drinking superior (Robin Wright) wants to know more. So does the omniscient Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), a kimono wrapped plutocrat, who lives in a Noh play version of the Phantom of the Opera's cellar. He has a dead pair of eyes. Literally dead. We sure know our villain when we see him.

When the dreadful Leto threatens a hostage with that mossy old movie threat, "You don't know the meaning of pain" some wiseass should yelp, "We sure do, Jared, we've seen you act." It's his henchwoman, euphemistically called Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) who really lights up the viewer's lizard brain. She's splendidly villainous, with her poreless skin, the little animated holographs on her enameled fingernails, her black hair pulled back screamingly tight. If there's any enduring performance in this movie, it's probably hers.

K investigates among the tsunami-wrecked ruins of San Diego, and goes deep in the desert, with dust storms, coppery light and giant nude statues—happily, the year 2049 looks like Burning Man. There he meets the last living man in Las Vegas. Cracked a bit from solitude, the hermit greets K with shipwrecked Ben Gunn's words to Jim Hawkins in Stevenson's Treasure Island.

On K's side is the helpful Joi (Ana De Armas), both Siri and electronic courtesan; at one point Joi brings home some living flesh to consummate her thing with K—a pleasure-model prostitute played by Mackenzie Davis. (Davis was 'Yorkie' in the celebrated "San Junipero" episode of Black Mirror, where a VR Santa Cruz was Heaven). Joie creates a menage a deux et demi with holographic overlays. These startling visuals must have been a technical nightmare, and it's quite lyrical, if maybe too lyrical to be erotic.

Villenueve's surrogate as director can be found in a girl in a glass bubble, Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri, the pervy heroine of Wetlands) a programmer of artificial memories. In the Dick phrase, she can remember it for you wholesale. The film is strongly peopled with women—knowing and strong, giantesses in statue form, in dancing Bollywood holographs, or in three story tall pink advertisements. They taunt the beaten up, past-haunted K. It's a future-verse of femme fatales. The odd thing is that it's all more grand than threatening. The misandry-prone geek bros won't know what hit them.

Blade Runner 2049
R; 169 Mins.

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