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‘Blade Runner’ sequel delights

WE’RE all just looking out for something real,” says Robin Wright’s police captain in “Blade Runner 2049.”

Wright, an icy, steely actress seemingly born for the world of “Blade Runner,” is speaking to her replicant detective whose name is his serial number: KDC-3-7 — or “K,” for short (Ryan Gosling). But it’s a line that resonates beyond the robotic reality of “Blade Runner.” What contemporary moviegoer won’t nod with understanding?

Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi neo-noir original extracted the frightful premise of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” — the horror of not knowing if you’re real or not — and overlaid it across an eerie and mesmerizing sci-fi void. Its slick surfaces and the radically atmospheric synthesizer score by Vangelis — not to mention Daryl Hannah’s hair and some serious shoulder pads — made “Blade Runner” an electric portrait of 1980s soullessness. Its futuristic grandeur came with a cynical shrug.

Denis Villeneuve’s impressively crafted and deeply respectful sequel, set 30 years later, has — more than most of its rebooting ilk — carefully preserved much of the original’s DNA. The photography, by Roger Deakins, is resolutely gorgeous, filled with stark perpendicular lines, glowing orange hazes and yellow pools of reflected light. Gosling, a worthy heir to Harrison Ford, shares his predecessor’s inclination for both restraint and a smirk.

But while “Blade Runner 2049” is always something to look at, an overly elaborate script and some other bad habits common to today’s sequel machinery — such as glaring product placement — have broken the “Blade Runner” spell.

It may be too harsh to grade “2049” against the original, especially when so many copycats have since diluted its dystopian wonder. Yet while “2049” still stands out from the pack, it lacks the mystery of the original. This latest updated model, less punk-rock in attitude, wants to connect the dots and illuminate backgrounds that stayed dark the first time around.

There are hints, one fears watching “2049,” of a “cinematic universe” scaffolding being erected. Scott is a producer this time around, but he had his hands in the film’s development, along with “Blade Runner” scribe Hampton Fancher (who co-writes here with Michael Green). Scott instead went off to make “Alien: Covenant” but there seems to be some growing connective tissue between the franchises. Certainly there’s much of the same tiresome creation mythology and Christ-imagery, along with the throat-clearing monologues about angels and demons (here delivered by Jared Leto’s crazy-eyed AI visionary).

The larger apparatus detracts from what is, at heart, a detective story, and a fairly good one, at that. Like Ford’s Rick Deckard, K is a Blade Runner seeking out-modeled replicants to “retire.” But whereas Deckard’s identity was up for grabs, K is definitely a replicant. He undergoes “baseline” questioning after each mission to establish that he hasn’t started feeling emotions.

Gosling has little about him that suggests android, unless future scientists are planning to work extremely hard on a “charmingly bemused” setting. I personally prefer his more alive and loose-limbed LA detective from “The Nice Guys,” but Gosling’s nature plays into the movie.


 

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