At last, there’s a sense of urgency in a Blade Runner movie. (That title, borrowed from Burroughs, evokes so much movement that grafting it onto Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie always felt like a bad joke.) The newest model, Blade Runner 2049, may not possess the fleet outline—four replicants, four set pieces—of the original or its revisions, but it’s an upgrade in every other sense. Instead of sleepwalking through the fog, this movie bounds through it on emotional overload.
The original seemed assembled by robots, and its larger themes about the slipperiness of humanity always felt like a machine’s idea of philosophical depth. Here, those ideas no longer lurk around the edges; like everything else, the new movie amplifies them to the point where one is surprised something this big and expensive can get away with it.
Still, is anyone going to see Blade Runner 2049 for its ideas about class, race, capitalism, or modernity? It touches on all of those issues, some more gracefully than others, but they’re lost in its adoration of Scott’s design. That’s OK; it’s a gorgeously ugly manifestation, even if it never made much thematic or contextual sense. (An overpopulated swamp of faceless ethnicities isn’t really the best venue for Aryan robots to determine humanness.)
“Big ideas” were always just an implant in this franchise’s shell; despite the new movie’s invocations of everything from the New Testament to Shakespeare to Nabokov, most audiences will be way ahead its twists and turns. Underneath it all is a playground of movie references. The original took the look of films noir and forgot the suggestive banter or narrative absurdism. Director Denis Villeneuve doesn’t restore either—he’s beholden to the machine after all—but he infuses a paranoid Western vibe and a gallows sense of humor that shoots the movie’s temperature above the original’s morgue-like chill.
Villeneuve’s best work glides on momentum and formal precision, and in that sense, he’s the perfect vessel to helm this thing—antsy enough to keep it moving, cold enough to keep its pose. As it is and as it was always supposed to be, the Blade Runner brand is a study of a study of aesthetic precision. With Blade Runner 2049, Hollywood’s reboot algorithm has moved into its most lifelike phase yet: a more-perfect approximation of the real thing.
Blade Runner 2049. Directed by Denis Villenueve. Written by Hamton Fancher and Michael Green. Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Ana de Armas. Opens in Kansas City October 6, 2017.