BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2016, R, 163 minutes, 16:14 ENTERTAINMENT/COLUMBIA PICTURES)
It is a well-known fact in the world of science fiction that the best tales of the future are the ones that explore the human element, and the place of humans within that possible tomorrow. Not some giant robots, exploding Death Stars, and (sharks with) laser beams (on their frickin’ heads).
In recent years, a few directors have tried to not redefine the genre, but honestly show you the true meaning of it. From Duncan Jones’s brilliant MOON, to Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, smart sci-fi isn’t something that is released all that often. (Mainly due to the lack of laser blasters and evil aliens.) A few years ago, director Denis Villeneuve (SICARIO) also reminded us that science fiction is supposed to be thought-provoking; his understanding of the genre—almost to a fault—brought us the singular vision which was ARRIVAL, a film heavy on the human element.
Having him at the helm of a sequel which took thirty-five years to bring to fruition is an act of sheer genius on the part of Ridley Scott, the man who brought the genre back on track way back in 1982 with the original BLADE RUNNER. No other film in recent years (honestly, you kinda have to go back to what Sir Scott created in ’82 to even compare) comes even close to touching the visionary poetry on display here. Working from Syd Meade’s artistic rendering of a realistic future in the first film, the crew here (including Mr. Meade, who is credited in both films as the “visual futurist”) expands upon that world in rich layers of muted color and derelict structures. This is a future Los Angeles—future America—steeped in human overabundance and waste. Even the neighboring “farmland” feels claustrophobic and overbearing, both of which are visual effects Sir Scott has incorporated into his best films. That influence is not lost on Villeneuve; there are several personal nods to the first film, which reverberate throughout the storytelling.
That doesn’t mean this is a rehash of the source material; if anything, this is a wholly new tale which incorporates all the best things from that groundbreaking vision created decades ago. The story centers on “K”, played with a seeming emotionless and muted thoughtfulness by Ryan Gosling, a Blade Runner who starts off hunting another “skin-job”, and winds up neck deep in an investigation which has him questioning his own place in things. And that’s as much of a description of the story as you are getting out of me; you all know I don’t do spoilers, and I won’t ruin any aspect of the tale by giving you any hints of things to watch for or story arcs to pay closer attention to. This is a tale best witnessed by yourself, and it might take more than one viewing for you to get everything. Seriously.
Yes, Harrison Ford is back as “Deckard”. Yes, there are still flying cars. Yes, those sweet looking guns are still in use, and Japanese influences are still abundant. What is most surprising here, though, is the sweet and desperate underlying love story, the human and non-human battles for symmetry and the grace of life, and the struggles with identity and death.
Again: it is the human element, whether concerning a Homo sapiens or otherwise, which drive tales of science fiction. And this tale is one of brutal beauty and subtle love. At almost two hours and forty-five minutes, you would think it could all get overbearing and really freaking heavy at times. But under the genius eye of cinematographer Roger Deakins (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, SICARIO), every aspect of the landscape, not to mention the perspective of every character, is captured in such a way that you never feel alienated. You are necessary to the viewing of this modern masterpiece; after all, it is your emotions which complete the experience.
Do not wait for this to come out on video, as this style of visual storytelling is best seen larger than life and onscreen. Do yourself the favor of seeing it now. It isn’t often that we get to witness something as original and visually striking as…well, as BLADE RUNNER, really.
-- T.S. Kummelman