Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Barkhad Abdi, Hiam Abbass, Wood Harris
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, based on a story by Hampton Fancher, and on characters created by Philip K. Dick
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 163
Date: 10/06/2017
IMDB

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Double-Deckard

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Watching a sequel to Blade Runner, at least for a certain generation of fans, is something akin to watching a sequel to Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey. A lot is at stake.

So to say that Blade Runner 2049 — which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters — is very, very good, without quite being a masterpiece, is not faint praise.

It certainly might have been a masterpiece, coming from the Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose Enemy deserves to be a cult classic, and whose Sicario and Arrival were among the very best movies of the last few years.

He is exceptionally skilled at establishing uncomfortable or alien spaces and exploring his characters therein. But in Blade Runner 2049, the main character, blade runner "K" (Ryan Gosling) very often seems to be in front of the majestic space instead of occupying it.

It's as if Villeneuve, along with writers Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original) and Michael Green (Logan) and composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer are stuck trying to re-establish those spaces and sounds and rhythms and feelings of the 1982 original, while simultaneously trying to move ahead.

The sequel explores similar themes, namely, what it means to be alive, what it means to have a soul, etc., but contains nothing quite as moving as Rutger Hauer's "lost in time... like tears in rain" speech. The wanting in this sequel isn't quite as strong.

To further nitpick, it is far too long, flagging at some point after the second hour, and teeters awfully close to dumb Wachowski-esque territory, looking for "the chosen one" while "a revolution is coming," etc.

Moreover, Jared Leto, in a two-scene Tyrell-like role, overacts in a wince-inducing way.

And yet, so much here is absolutely spellbinding, not least of all the visuals and sound. Many scenes are hauntingly, eerily still, although the movie does have its share of fights and explosions. Villeneuve plays with themes of wood and water and womanhood that are, if not totally brilliant, then at least consistently interesting.

Harrison Ford, returning to Rick Deckard after 35 years, slips back into the role like a pro, giving it the same kind of weight that Sylvester Stallone brought to Rocky in Creed.

Quite a lot rides on Gosling, whose character plays everything close to the chest, and yet it's easy to see how he's pulled in different directions. He's the right choice for this. Many other popular actors simply can't play stoic without shutting down and going cold.

Many recent films, including the live-action Ghost in the Shell, have toyed with the same themes and the same overwhelming, dystopian, cityscape backdrop. Most are immersive, but not especially thoughtful. Blade Runner 2049 puts the thought back in.

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