Greg Eichelberger reviews "Blade Runner 2049"

Staff Writer

Film sequels that are as good as or better than the original are on a short list, indeed. These superb pictures include "Superman II," "The Dark Knight," "Godfather, Part II," "Terminator 2: Judgement Day," "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan," "Toy Story 2," "Bride Of Frankenstein," and, of course, "The Empire Strikes Back."
Now, you can add "Blade Runner 2049" to that survey. While the 1982 film (and subsequent "director's cuts"), helmed by Ridley Scott, brought a new standard of special effects, high-tech and intelligent writing (logical, since it was based on a novel by science fiction writer, Phillip K. Dick), the movie was often confusing and muddled in parts (the reason for all the new versions, perhaps) with a completely unsympathetic protagonist. Here, as directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival") — although Scott does produce — and it is co-written by original screenwriter Hampton Fancher (along with Michael Green, "Logan"), the plot becomes more layered and nuanced and the look created by multi-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins ("Sicario," "Hail, Caesar"), who creates an amazing futuristic world where it's perpetually hazy, fog-shrouded and rainy (although I still don't get the whole snow in Los Angeles thing).
This atmosphere, along with the huge neon and holographic images of beautiful Asian and Russian women rise through the drizzle in a vibrant, but detached LA landscape (I would have imaged a more notable Hispanic influence, though).
After a pre-credit explanation of how replicants (or an automaton labor force) rebel and are still being hunted and eliminated by so-called blade runners, the story takes place 30 years after the events of the first film (2019), where a new runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling, Golden Globe winner for "La La Land"), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge society into chaos.
K's discovery pits him against his superiors, including Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright, "Wonder Woman," but best known as Jenny in "Forrest Gump") and the corporate magnate, Wallace (Jared Leto, "Suicide Squad").
The uncovering of the skeletal remains of a mysterious woman, as well as child she may have birthed also leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, "Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens"), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for three decades.
Meanwhile, we are told of a 10-day "blackout" in which all digital records (including replica infomation) are wiped out and forever lost.
Aiding K in this investigation, is a stunning virtual reality/artificial intelligent entity, Joi (Ana de Armas, "Hands Of Stone") who through a device called the Emanator, can take on even more real physical attributes (think Spike Jonze's "Her"), as well as a prostitute with a heart of gold, among others.
During all of this, K, a replicant himself, is having feelings of possible humanity. Could he be the possible missing link of an android born of a automaton and a human? Still, there are others, human and robot alike (especially Wallace and Luv — Sylvia Hoeks — respectively), who do NOT want even the possibility of such a situation revealed to ANYONE.
The long-awaited meeting of the two runners is well worth it and the two characters play off one another, neither realizing the other's motivations, origins or fates. Deckard now lives off the grid in Las Vegas, slathered in abandoned luxury (it's difficult to wander why NO ONE else has invaded this world) with a silent, whisky-drinking dog and Elvis holographs.
When K does arrive, the two battle, but finally see the light and begin to work together. Gosling's low-key demeanor matches perfectly with Ford's gruff machismo and the two guilt-ridden cops play off each other very well.
In most sci-fi movies of this ilk, the adventure easily overshadows the acting, just look at george Miller's marvelous "Mad Max: Fury Road" for the best example. In a perfect world, Harrison should (I repeat, SHOULD) at least cop a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In fact, the entire cast is terrific.
Making the pacing purposely deliberate, unlike the excruciating slowness of "The Arrival," Villeneuve allows tension and character development to bubble under the surface and finally boil over in the third act. It's an achievement in and of itself to overshadow the original, but to do so with minimal violence or currently popular explosions and pyrotechnics. It’s one of the most visually, vibrant and cerebral film experiences.
Musically, composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer tag team on a score that alternates between low, lush almost indistinguishable strings to a harsh, pulsating beat which rattles the landscape as well as the audience. Predict more Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for this aspect of the film.
In addition, with more than passing homages to Fritz Lang’s "Metropolis" and Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odysey" in the annals of ground-breaking sci-fi, Deakins also mimics Scott's 1982 vision a tad and adds elements of "The Martian" and "Prometheus," two more of Scott's more brilliant visual achievements.
Despite his many fine films, this humble writer believes this is Deakins' best work yet and certainly the best opportunity to receive the Academy Award so criminally denied him in the past (as if an Oscar means anything after "Moonlight" winning Best Picture last year) as almost every shot resembles a museum piece exhibit. It is a supreme effort and the most enjoyable one, so far.
Grade: A