A stylish, brood­ing se­quel to ’82 clas­sic

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

In 1982, when repli­cants hadn’t yet be­come a Hol­ly­wood busi­ness model, “Blade Run­ner” failed to do what Warner Brothers hoped it would: make a pile of money.

It suc­ceeded, how­ever, in ac­quir­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of a mod­ern sci­ence fic­tion clas­sic. Direc­tor Ri­d­ley Scott’s 2019-set story (based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do An­droids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep?”) en­tered our pop­u­lar cul­ture side­ways, in­flu­enc­ing two gen­er­a­tions of film­mak­ers with its men­ac­ing, dystopian per­spec­tive.

Now comes the se­quel. The stu­dio is bank­ing on the orig­i­nal’s ca­chet, if not its cash, to jus­tify a $150 mil­lion pro­duc­tion bud­get. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But there’s a real movie to talk about — flawed, yes, flabby, yes, a lit­tle wob­bly and synthetic on story. And of­ten spell­bind­ing.

Un­der stone-ground­mus­tard-col­ored skies (the air qual­ity is 30 years worse for wear, ac­cord­ing to the nar­ra­tive time­line), pre­sent­ing an ar­ray of metic­u­lously re­al­ized vi­sions of Los An­ge­les, “Blade Run­ner 2049” is poised to di­vide au­di­ences just as the orig­i­nal did. Direc­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve’s brood­ing, me­thod­i­cal se­quel takes its cue from the tone, as well as the look, of the ’82 film, and while it’s a dif­fer­ent movie, it of­fers a sim­i­larly ru­mi­na­tive pace. The se­quel is 164 min­utes, roughly 45 min­utes more gen­er­ous (or for­bid­ding) than the first one.

Ev­ery ef­fect, each lit­tle de­tail in the “Blade Run­ner” se­quel adds to a won­drously hideous near-fu­ture, full of holo­graphic ac­ces­sories, slave-la­bor repli­cants and, as one sin­is­ter char­ac­ter (I be­lieve) puts it, “the fab­u­lous new.” MPAA rat­ing: R (for vi­o­lence, some sex­u­al­ity, nu­dity and lan­guage) Run­ning time: 2:44 Opens: Thurs­day night Ryan Gosling fits well in this ma­te­rial. That opaque, half-zonked af­fect he fa­vors as a screen ac­tor is per­fect for the role of LAPD “blade run­ner” (repli­cant hunter) Of­fi­cer K, tasked by his su­pe­rior (Robin Wright) to run down the lat­est rene­gade repli­cants who want more out of life.

The sin­is­ter Tyrell Corp. has been taken over by the even more sin­is­ter Wal­lace Corp., run by a sight-im­paired hip­pie played by Jared Leto. He’s all creepy, mea­sured tones and mytho­log­i­cal pre­ten­sion; maybe he and Michael Fass­ben­der from “Alien: Covenant” can shack up to­gether some­time. (Fass- ben­der could teach Leto a thing or two about keep­ing an au­di­ence lis­ten­ing to du­bi­ous mono­logues about cre­ation.) Gosling’s K finds a mys­te­ri­ous set of … spoil­ers buried near the site of the movie’s first repli­cant mur­der. His in­ves­ti­ga­tion takes him deep into the bow­els of the Wal­lace lair, and in­hu­manly sleek bow­els they are, thanks to ace pro­duc­tion de­signer Den­nis Gass­ner.

Vast num­bers of repli­cant mem­o­ries are stored by Wal­lace and his min­ions, the most fear­some of whom, or which, is played with a whiff of pathos and a glint of psy­cho by Sylvia Hoeks. (Vil­leneuve’s stag­ing of a key scene be­tween Hoeks and Wright is eerily per­fect.) Out­side a fancy holo­graphic fe­male com­pan­ion (Ana de Ar­mas), K has lit­tle in his life be­yond a nag­ging sen­sa­tion that his mem­o­ries hold the key to some­thing larger.

All this leads to Deckard. Har­ri­son Ford brings weary grav­ity and sur­pris­ing sub­tlety to the old blade run­ner, now hid­ing out in an undis­closed lo­ca­tion, wait­ing for the younger, more bank­able star to show up and hit him with ques­tions promised by the movie’s trail­ers. The odyssey charted by “Blade Run­ner 2049” al­lows Vil­leneuve and his in­spired de­sign and ef­fects army to cre­ate a world in­debted to the ’82 film but not chained to it.

Chief among equals in that army: cin­e­matog­ra­pher Roger Deakins, al­ready nom­i­nated for 13 Academy Awards and over­due for a win. He sat­u­rates the screen with great, un­set­tling splashes of color sug­gest­ing trou­ble or rot, or weirdly glam­orous trou­ble and rot. (That’s noir for you.) There’s a chill in the air in Vil­leneuve’s film, as there was in Scott’s orig­i­nal, and there should be: All the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments pro­vide daz­zling but hol­low com­fort. When a kiss be­tween K and his “woman” “friend” is in­ter­rupted by a voice mes­sage, for ex­am­ple, the dig­i­tal ef­fects ac­tu­ally mean some­thing; the im­pact is trou­bling.

Straight off, the script by Hamp­ton Fancher and Michael Green poses a ques­tion: Is the Gosling char­ac­ter hu­man or repli­cant? Deckard has had to put up with that par­lor game (the game never ended, re­ally) for 35 years now. Other puz­zles en­ter the story, some more in­trigu­ing than oth­ers. Per­versely, Vil­leneuve bun­gles the stag­ing of a cou­ple of key ac­tion se­quences, one in­volv­ing Gosling and Ford, the other a wa­ter­logged cli­max that’s in­ten­tion­ally messy but un­in­ten- tion­ally muted.

Like the first one, “Blade Run­ner 2049” doesn’t con­form to usual ac­tion beats or au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tions of sci­ence fic­tion thrillers. It’s a work­man­like screen­play at best. Most of the fe­male char­ac­ters could be de­scribed (as my edi­tor did) as mere apps, and there are times when Vil­leneuve could have taken care of some ba­sic sto­ry­telling and rhyth­mic needs while es­tab­lish­ing the pe­cu­liar, suf­fo­cat­ing, bril­liantly imag­ined vis­ual uni­verse on screen.

But that phrase is worth re­peat­ing: “bril­liantly imag­ined vis­ual uni­verse.” A movie­goer can for­give a lot in a movie when the movie of­fers so much to see. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.

STEPHEN VAUGHAN/WARNER BROTHERS

Ryan Gosling plays an LAPD “blade run­ner,” or repli­cant hunter, in 2049 in direc­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve’s film, set 30 years af­ter Ri­d­ley Scott’s “Blade Run­ner.”

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