Like its predecessor, 'Blade Runner 2049' has a lot going on underneath its slickly produced surface.
“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”
Blade Runner 2049 does not begin with that quote from G. K. Chesterton, but it easily could. If the future world first introduced to us 35 years ago in Blade Runner was anything, it was a world starved for want of wonder. Floating cars moved through the neon canyons of downtown Los Angeles while the very sides of the skyscrapers themselves cried out advertisements for off-world adventures, and yet the people who walked the streets below seemed barely to notice. They were husks, nearly drained of feeling.
Only the replicants, the artificial beings created for use as slave labor, appeared to retain any sense of awe during their brief existence, as evidenced by the iconic “tears in rain” soliloquy delivered by the dying Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) at the end of the film. Because of that, the replicants came across as more human, more alive, than the real flesh and blood people whom they served.
The idea that a sense of wonder is one of the primary things that distinguishes us as human beings takes front and center in Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve’s long-in-coming follow up to Ridley Scott’s beloved sci-fi classic. It permeates every frame of the film, much like the ever-present precipitation that falls upon future Los Angeles.
Thanks to Sony’s impressively hefty non-disclosure agreement, which I did not sign but will honor the spirit of, there is little of the actual plot of Blade Runner 2049 I can discuss. Basically, I can reveal that Blade Runners (police officers commissioned to hunt down rogue replicants) are still around in the year 2049. One such Blade Runner, ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling), stumbles across a mystery connected to the disappearance of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and his replicant lover Rachael (Sean Young) 35 years earlier.
Because the public revelation of this secret — to which I can offer no clues without Sony cursing my family for generations to come — could possibly cause worldwide upheaval, ‘K’ is tasked by his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) with erasing all evidence of it from existence. He is dogged at every step by other interested parties such as the new head of the replicant-manufacturing Tyrell Corporation, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and an underground network of runaway replicants.
And that’s about all I can give you story-wise before the film is released without running the risk of having Sony make me disappear. Beyond that, all I can offer are impressions. And that’s fine, actually, as Blade Runner 2049 is a film that relies heavily on impressions for its success. To that end, the movie is undeniably beautiful to look at. To accentuate its noir stylings, the original Blade Runner confined itself to the city of Los Angeles. The sequel expands out into the larger world, and each new location is lovingly lingered over by the camera. Thirteen-time Academy Award nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins is possibly the best in the business at this moment, and he is at the absolute top of his game here. Somebody please give this man an Oscar, already.
The movie is more than just a visual delight, however. Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 has a lot going on underneath its slickly produced surface. Its central premise, that a sense of awe is an indispensable part of claiming humanity, is stated early on. It doesn’t just introduce the idea and move on to action scenes, though. Despite what the trailers suggest, almost none of the movie’s nearly 3-hour running time is taken up by gunfire or explosions. The movie unfolds slowly and deliberately, allowing more than sufficient time for the emotional and philosophical implications of each new piece of information to sink in before moving on. That means paying attention to expressions and body language becomes just as important as listening to what is being spoken.
Quite frankly, it’s an approach that runs the risk of boring a lot of audience members. I’m fairly certain there was at least one person snoring during the screening I attended. For those who enjoy philosophical ruminations combined with a long soak in the atmosphere of a film, however, Blade Runner 2049 is likely be something of a treasure. Villeneuve has fashioned a motion picture that rewards patience, which is good, because at three hours, it sort of demands it.