- Dystopia isn't what it used to be.
In George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the inquisitor O'Brien says: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." Blade Runner 2049, the brilliantly depressing sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 Blade Runner, sees the future slightly differently. Same boot stamping, but the face may not necessarily be human, and compared to the landscapes inhabited by 2049's characters, O'Brien's Room 101 is, well, like sitting on an adjustable lounger in a downtown multiplex for two and a half hours, then shuffling out for a cup of tropical juice.
Blade Runner 2049 plays games — dangerous games — with our notions of the unendurable. As directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) from a screenplay by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original) and Michael Green — adapted as before from the science-fiction writing of Philip K. Dick — its first goal is to sweep us off our feet with electronic splendor, and then to get us to pause and consider our own present situation. The first goal is triumphantly achieved on screen; the second may take some courage.
LAPD "Officer K" (Ryan Gosling) zips around the awe-inspiring, soggy wasteland in his airmobile, hunting renegade replicants and getting absolutely no respect. He has no friends, several bosses, an unending supply of brutish android "clients," and, at home, a changeling e-playmate (Ana de Armas) to entertain him. In that regard, nothing much has changed from the original. But Villeneuve's version goes out of its way to announce that it's a stand-alone monolith of dispiriting sci-fi visions. And with that comes a full package of extras. The production design (Dennis Gassner), cinematography (Roger Deakins), and music (Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) are overpoweringly evocative.
With his deadpan demeanor, Gosling is ideally suited to the role of a police-state cop haunted by elusive dreams of a spurious "past" and no longer satisfied with shtupping holograms. When he finally meets up with Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard at the latter's man-cave casino, we're happy there's a straight line from Scott's earlier pic to this one — that includes Sean Young and Edward James Olmos, along for the ride 35 years later. They, and virtually every other character, are some variety of slave.
2049 is rich in showcase roles for actresses. Armas, Robin Wright (as K's boss), and particularly Sylvia Hoeks (K's nemesis) make us want to forget all about the male protagonists — a firm reminder that no one in the remake comes close to the charisma of Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty. The 163-minute show drags a bit in the last act, but aside from that — and the danger that techies may view it as a documentary — Villeneuve's remake is the slickest fantasy in many moons. Dystopia isn't what it used to be. It's far worse, and in this case that's a good thing.
Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. With Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Now playing.