This post includes spoilers for "Blade Runner 2049" and "Blade Runner."
Thirty-five years after "Blade Runner" graced our screens and 10 years after director Ridley Scott perfected it with a "Final Cut," the science fiction cult classic has a sequel.
In the "Blade Runner" world, artificial humans called "replicants" exist. They're built to be slaves and look exactly like humans. When one escapes or becomes too self-aware, they're killed by bounty hunters or police officers called "blade runners."
"Blade Runner 2049" has "Arrival" director Denis Villeneuve in the director's chair and sets up Ryan Gosling as the enigmatic replicant leading the movie. It has even more spectacular visuals than the original, and has a gumshoe noir plot worthy of its setting. But there are still some issues that hold it back from being a revival on par with something like "Mad Max: Fury Road" or "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Why should you care: It's the long-awaited sequel to one of the most beloved sci-fi movies of all time.
The first "Blade Runner" movie was released in 1982, when Harrison Ford was known as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Ridley Scott had just made "Alien" and adventurous sci-fi movies were in demand.
"Blade Runner" updated the plotty and romantic noir stories of the 1940s and '50s for the age of action-heavy science fiction. It gave it the intellectual credibility of Philip K. Dick, who wrote the existential novel the movie is based on, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
The movie also leaves a major question unanswered, debated by fans to this day: Is Deckard, Harrison Ford's character, himself a replicant? And will that be answered in a sequel?
"Blade Runner" got mixed reviews upon release and never spawned a franchise like "Star Wars,""Alien," and "The Terminator," partly because Scott and the studio were at odds over the cut released in theaters. But over the years, it became more and more influential and grew a cult following. Now after decades, we have a sequel.
What's hot: The mystery plot and stunning visuals.
In "Blade Runner 2049," Ryan Gosling plays a replicant police officer, an obedient android who hunts down the earlier models who have free will. During the course of his job, he stumbles upon a secret that threatens to shake the foundations of the balance between replicants and humans. While he tries to resolve it, he also goes on a personal journey to find his place in the world.
Gosling is great at this kind of thing. As "Drive,""Blue Valentine," and "La La Land" attest, he's great at conjuring moody reflection about grand ideas of love and life without too much speechifying. It's a quality he shares with Harrison Ford. Ford himself appears late in the movie, and Villeneuve uses his age to the same melancholic effect J.J. Abrams used in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Jared Leto does a slick job as the sinister villain obsessed with James Turrell even though he's blind. Sylvia Hoeks, a Dutch actress, is introduced to American audiences as Leto's henchwoman and dominates the scenes she's in. Carla Juri has a small but essential role, and she's perfect in it. The corners of Robin Wright's mouth (she plays Gosling's character's boss) have more acting ability than most of Los Angeles. And Barkhad Abdi, who unfortunately isn't getting cast in enough movies, is a delight in a small scene.
The original "Blade Runner" was praised for its dystopian world of futuristic Los Angeles, perpetually dark and covered in neon advertisements. "Blade Runner 2049" steps it up with "Her"-like AI companions, holograms, and a really big Sony logo (the company produced the movie).
Villeneuve's "Arrival" had beautiful landscape shots and special effects. For "Blade Runner 2049," he teamed up with production designer Dennis Gassner and Roger Deakins, one of the world's greatest living cinematographers, responsible for the look of "Skyfall" and "No Country for Old Men." Deakins also worked as a visual consultant on "Wall-E" and "How to Train Your Dragon." He's long overdue for an Oscar, and his work on this movie is worthy of one.
What's not: It's hard to care about the characters.
The biggest problem with the original "Blade Runner" is that the characters aren't all that convincing. Harrison Ford is awesome as a gloomy bounty hunter, less so as a romantic one. "Blade Runner 2049" has the same problem. It's fun to watch Gosling's character (he's named only with a serial number that starts with "K,"which may be a Franz Kafka reference) discover new clues and put the puzzle together, but the romance with his AI girlfriend and his emotional connections with other people don't quite click. Both his character and Deckard are better as loners.
And so when Gosling's character finally finds Deckard, late in the film, it doesn't feel so much like an emotional revelation. It's more like finding a legendary Pokémon and seeing the plot points culminate into the final sequence.
Because the movie isn't too emotionally unconvincing, it's hard to care about some of the thematic ideas the movie plays up. Jared Leto's villain goes on a whole monologue about how pain is like love or something. Whatever. I just wanted to see more cool drone shots.
The bottom-line: It's an incredible achievement, but not quite a masterpiece.
It's hard to make a sequel to a beloved movie 35 years later, much less with a new director (Ridley Scott still produced "Blade Runner 2049"). But this new movie does it and ups the ante with an imaginative cyberpunk universe, thematic continuity, and stunning setpieces. Sure, the existential pondering is overwritten, but it's rare that we get a $200 million blockbuster at least as thoughtful about it as "Blade Runner 2049."
"Blade Runner 2049" hits theaters on Friday.