Blade Runner 2049
Starting with Prisoners and rising to new pretentious levels with Sicario and Arrival, director Denis Villeneuve has taken pulpy stories and layered onto them a self-importance ill fitting the subject matter.
All but handed a graphic novel from which to work by original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Logan), Villeneuve manages to get out of his own way in Blade Runner 2049, melding his unquestioned command of visuals with a heightened world operating outside of reality in which his inflated tone feels perfectly at home.
With Harrison Ford on the film’s poster but taking his sweet time getting onscreen, Ryan Gosling’s emotionally stunted tutelage under Nicolas Winding Refn pays dividends as K, a titular LAPD hunter of rogue replicants, working in the specified year, who — like Ford’s Rick Deckard from Ridley Scott’s 1982 series starter — may not be human himself.
Tasked by his commanding officer Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) with tracking down the remainders from a particular old batch of androids, K uncovers a pair of clues that challenge humanity’s understanding of A.I. and attracts the attention of sadistic replicant pioneer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, perfectly overacting) and his loyal robotic henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).
Whereas many past Villeneuve works would soon meander toward a series of simple to underwhelming revelations, cheapening the build-up’s gains, Blade Runner 2049’s intelligent script takes its time telling the story and sticks to its path.
Every narrative detail feels well developed, proceeding in an episodic manner that’s nonetheless stitched together amazingly well, from the high concepts of the core mystery to the relationship between K and his digital girlfriend Joi (a terrific Ana de Armas) — part of an effects arsenal that together forms one of some of the best CGI packages cinema has created.
Thanks to impeccable production design that, as lit by cinematographer Roger Deakins, pays homage to its predecessor while taking several crystal clear steps — possibly laps — forward through Villeneuve’s lens, the visual team delivers one postcard-ready image after another that are made all the more memorable by a jarring electronic score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.
The look and feel of Blade Runner 2049 is so well conceived that by the time Deckard makes his entrance, his presence is merely a bonus, though one that seamlessly synchronizes with what’s come before and the final adventures that follow.
Measured though its pacing is, the synthesis of these remarkable pieces makes for the fastest nearly three-hour feature since The Wolf of Wall Street. And based on its visceral and cerebral engagement during that span and its staying power in the mind, it’ll take a cinematic miracle to knock it from the top spot of this year’s film offerings.
Grade: A-plus. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Warner Bros.)