‘Blade Runner 2049’ infuses sci-fi with style and philosophy

Gosling and Hoeks tour the totally normal and not disturbing replicant factory.
Photo: Warner Bros. / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

Blade Runner 2049 Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

It took quite a while for Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner to attain classic status, and the long-in-the-works sequel could have an equally tough time reaching a wide audience, at least at first. Directed by master stylist Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival), Blade Runner 2049 is moody, methodical and meticulous, with stunning visuals, strong performances and a sci-fi story that’s more ponderous than thrilling. Anyone looking for an action-packed sci-fi blockbuster will instead find a slow rumination on what it means to be human—just as audiences did back in 1982.

Set 30 years after the events of the original movie, 2049 stars Ryan Gosling as an LAPD detective known as K, a so-called blade runner whose job is to track down and eliminate renegade replicants (human-looking androids). K himself is a replicant, too, but an obedient one (at least at first) who follows rules set down by his stern but compassionate boss (Robin Wright). K’s latest case eventually puts him on the trail of former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), but the screenplay by Hampton Fancher (one of the co-writers of the original movie) and Michael Green takes a long time getting there (or getting anywhere, really).

Ford’s heavily hyped role is similar to his turn as Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a small supporting part (he doesn’t show up until more than 90 minutes into the movie) that serves to bridge the gap between generations. Mainly, the story here is about K, and specifically about how his obsession with Deckard’s case fuels his desire to be something more than a cog in a machine, whether by connecting with his holographic girlfriend (Ana de Armas) or by exploring memories of his own past (which may or may not be real). Gosling makes K into a well-rounded, sensitive figure whose emotions are easy to sympathize with, even if they’re artificial.

Ford passes the baton effectively enough as Deckard, and Jared Leto gets in a few creepy moments as the power-hungry designer of the latest replicants, but it’s the women who really stand out in the supporting cast: Wright as the weary cop, de Armas as the computer program who can never touch her lover, and especially Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks in a breakout performance as K’s main replicant foe. The straightforward story is stretched pretty thin over the excessive 163-minute running time, but it’s framed by such exquisite visuals (including a visit to an eerie, abandoned post-apocalyptic Las Vegas) that it’s never less than breathtaking to watch. The original movie’s design sense, world-building and atmosphere were all more fascinating than its story, and that’s the case here again. If 2049 takes a while to build a following, every bit of it will be earned.

Tags: Film
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