It’s been 35 years, and if you’re going to attempt a sequel to one of the most iconic sci-fi movies ever, you’d better come at it with all you’ve got.
For the most part, the makers of “Blade Runner 2049” have done just that. Director Denis Villeneuve’s (“Arrival”) follow-up can stand comfortably alongside Ridley Scott’s original, which was inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, while not diminishing its legacy – and that is a very important thing in a case like this.
The first time, it was a matter of cops chasing almost-human replicants … and now, the lead character is both as played effectively by Ryan Gosling. His case has to do with others of his kind, their purpose and their life span – and our hero has to decide whether to be true to his police boss, Robin Wright (in prime “House of Cards”-like mode), or himself.
His probe ultimately leads him to the person we will always know as the main Blade Runner, the ever-world-weary Rick Deckard – again played to cynical perfection by Harrison Ford. It’s a treat to watch him and Gosling match up their variations on what largely is the same role, with the understanding that no one can out-Ford Ford.
Jared Leto turns up as the ethically questionable overseer of what was the autocratic Tyrell Corporation the first time, and there are other pivotal females who aren’t totally human, assuming the slot first filled by Sean Young. Especially notable in that category is Ana de Armas as Gosling’s virtual significant other, someone who literally can be whoever you want her to be.
As might be expected, the overall look of “Blade Runner 2049” is critical to the picture’s success, and two highly skilled veterans of the most recent James Bond movies – cinematographer Roger Deakins, who gave “Skyfall” its visual sheen, and production designer Dennis Gassner – can be applauded for that. They manage to make this future world look even more grim, if that’s possible, while retaining elements that will feel appreciably familiar to those steeped in the original film.
Clocking in at almost three hours, “Blade Runner 2049” manages something not many much-later sequels do: It takes something we know very well and, instead of botching it, runs with it. And especially for those who might have assumed the worst, that’s an outcome to be celebrated.