Director Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival) seems to not make bad films, and his Blade Runner 2049 does everything we could have possibly wanted from the long-gestating project and more. Ryan Gosling is K—or Joe, depending on what we're talkin' about here—a replicant (lifelike robots, for those who haven't seen Ridley Scott's seminal 1982 film) turned cop who hunts down older-model replicants and "retires" them, which is really a fancy term for killing (since, like, there are not gold watches being handed out). K's generation of replicants simply obey orders thanks to the shadowy Wallace Corp., the sole manufacturers of such robots run by a painfully over-the-top Jared Leto, who has seemingly crushed all free will out of these things. We can only assume whatever Leto did to prepare for the role, given his famously irritating "method" style, was tiresome.
But why should a robot deserve free will, and just how would one access such an abstract? This and other conundrums form the burning questions beneath the flying cars, replicant fistfights and future-y shootouts—what is free will, what is the soul and why does Leto's character insist on wandering around creeping everyone out miserably with his terrifying future-eyes? K, of course, attempts to resolve these questions after a seemingly normal case propels him into the kind of mystery that gets people killed, replicants retired and unearths Harrison Ford (reprising his famous Deckard role) for one of those "We remember the first time he ran afoul of replicants!" moments for people of a certain age.
Villeneuve's world is stunningly perfect, a brilliant intersection of future tech—if the vision from the 1980s had never changed—fan service and a riveting noir mystery. Gosling is interesting enough as the mostly emotionless K, but emotionless often seems like his thing, so he's right at home here. Far more interesting are the supporting players, specifically Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a complex replicant who seems at war with her own developing emotions even as she murders anyone who gets in her way, and Ana de Armas as Joi, K's holographic AI companion for whom he (and we) begin to develop very real attachment.
It's very possible Blade Runner 2049 has set itself up for a sequel, which can sometimes be irksome, but with its many facets coming together into a wildly enjoyable sci-fi thriller, we'd actually welcome it with open arms. In the world of reboots, remakes and continuations currently dominating film and television, Villeneuve tackles the material in very smart ways. What happens next is wide open and inviting.
+Picks up the atmosphere of the original brilliantly; intriguing from start to finish
-Kind of unnecessarily long; Gosling is so-so
Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Villeneuve
With Gosling, Ford, Hoeks and De Armas
Regal, Violet Crown, R, 163 min.