If I could describe 1982’s “Blade Runner” in one word, it would be “hypnotic.” Director Ridley Scott crafted a world of eerie calm, one where flying cars and public shootouts were so casual that they blended in perfectly with their environment. A “blade runner” detective named Deckard (Harrison Ford) was assigned a case where he was to kill four disgruntled androids called Replicants. Surely he was in danger, and the case would go on to greatly affect his existence, but his only distress initially was over his inability to enjoy a bowl of noodles. Occasional bursts of violence and emotion barely affected the world’s harmonious state.
“Blade Runner 2049” takes place thirty years after the original, and this time the stakes are more disruptive. It seems as though about thirty years ago, Deckard and his Replicant wife had a baby, and the potential for human/Replicant hybrids could shift the balance of power on a universal level. For example, industrialist Wallace (Jared Leto) could harness the biology and increase his company’s line of A.I. servants tenfold. Or outdated Replicants could use it as evidence that they deserve freedom in human society. Or the general population could be thrown into panic, which cannot be tolerated by L.A.’s Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright). She assigns K (Ryan Gosling), her best Replicant officer, to identify the now-grown baby and “retire” it, “retire” meaning “kill” in this world because humans like to delude themselves.
Replicants like K are now acceptable on Earth, provided they’re newer, more obedient models than the originals, who still need to be retired. K lives a moderately comfortable life with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas). He’s labelled a sellout because he hunts his own kind, but he’s wired (perhaps literally) to not let that bother him. K’s investigation stirs up emotions he’s never felt, especially since he’s not supposed to feel emotions and it’s actually a major problem that he does. He’s compelled to ask questions about his past, including whether he himself is the human/Replicant hybrid that’s causing all the fuss. His quest eventually leads him to an aged Deckard, whom he immediately sees as a father figure.
The best thing about the movie is the relationship between K and Joi, which is at once sad, sick, and beautiful. Neither of these characters are technically humans (and one doesn’t have a body), yet somehow they have more heart than characters with actual hearts. The film invites viewers to make weird speculations about the couple’s intimate life, and provides a few offbeat answers. Joi indulges K in the popular fantasy of being with two women at once, though in fantasies the women are usually separate.
The worst thing about the movie is Leto as the villain. I’ve never seen a character whose dialogue could be more accurately described as “mumbo-jumbo.” He wants to be a god and he’s despondent that he has to settle for being a billionaire. But that doesn’t stop him from spouting what he considers godlike wisdom at every opportunity. He leaves most of his dirty work to his assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), and she does pick-up some much-needed villainous slack, but it’s not the same as if the film had created a viable lead antagonist.
Director Denis Villeneuve certainly nails the atmosphere he wants for “Blade Runner 2049.” It’s not exactly post-apocalyptic, but thirty years have taken a toll on the world Scott created, and we get the impression that it’s just a few years away from collapse. There’s more action and urgency this time around, but you can still get lost in this world and its hypnotic qualities. At 163 minutes at a contemplative pace, you might find yourself getting very sleepy for the wrong reasons.
Note: It pays to see the original “Blade Runner” before seeing this movie, if only for a frame of reference for when an old buddy of Deckard’s shows up, still rocking the bowtie.
"Blade Runner 2049” is rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language. Its running time is 163 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.