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Sequel to 'Blade Runner' is worth 35-year wait

Call them the "V" words -- "vision" and "visionary." In 2017, every blogger, grip and honey wagon driver in movies has been throwing them around to describe half the movies they've made or seen for the last 35 years.

But in 1982, those words were used with great care and even reluctance. When Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" came out, it really seemed like a visionary masterpiece. At the very least, it was an entirely new kind of movie. My enthusiasm for the game-changing film somehow made it to the cover of the video box (remember those?) for a few years.

And then came the movies by those who could be called "Ridley's Kids" -- all those filmmakers who created cold, radically different visual worlds for their own sake where the emotional content seemed to be written in some kind of code none of us was smart enough to decipher.

I can't tell you how much praise is due to French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival," "Sicario") for what he has done to the sequel to Scott's film. This is a "Blade Runner" with emotional content, not a plausible replica of it--so much so that courtesy of a great performance by Harrison Ford at the end, it becomes quite moving.

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner 2049." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

No longer are we looking at a jaw-dropping specimen of "Future Noir" (see Paul M. Sammon's book of that name) -- an entire, teeming nightmare world, constantly tormented by rain and god-knows-what microbes and abuses.

We've actually got a human -- indeed touching -- story to follow throughout the film. At 163 minutes, it's a good 20 minutes too long. And at least one character -- that played by Jared Leto -- could have been moved offscreen and been transformed into a rumor and hearsay.

It's not that Leto is a bad actor. Quite the contrary. It's just that the dialogue he's been given is so beside the point that he's unnecessary. His continuing on camera bloats the movie, but I'll bet it's due to gratitude by the filmmakers (including Scott as executive producer) for being there.

At one point he delivers some dialogue that stops the movie's momentum dead. Thank heaven for the revelation and great action that follow.

The original was based on Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" It gave us a future world where androids called "replicants" needed to be rubbed out lest they interfere with humanity.

Those charged with seeking out hidden quasi-humans were the "blade runners," of whom Harrison Ford was our hero, Deckard. He was a walking mystery. Whether he himself was a replicant is one of the mysteries the film left open.

Ryan Gosling is K, the blade-running L.A. cop now in the year 2049, when San Diego has turned into dumpsite for L.A. There is a mystery -- a smart and involving one -- at the heart of "Blade Runner 2049." What's at stake as it plays out are K's own memories and origins.

It requires that whole world to be explored so that, as the film comes to its climax, Gosling's K and Ford's Deckard come together.

Ryan Gosling and Ana De Armas in "Blade Runner 2049." (Stephen Vaughan, Warner Bros. Pictures)

They finally do in an abandoned Las Vegas where, as Deckard says, he's surrounded by millions of whiskey bottles and nothing else but a mangy dog.

"I used to do what you do," he tells K. "Only better."

They fight, because that's what they do. And then they stop so that the plot can proceed.

Back in 1982, few of us had any understanding of what an extraordinary actor Ford was. He was usually in motion as an adventurer; what did we know about what he could reveal of human emotions?

In his mid-'70s, his face as all the bumps and creases that time gives the aging male face. And what he can do with it has increased tenfold. The number of emotions he can get across with power has bloomed. What Villeneuve has done with Ford in "Blade Runner 2049" is a kind of demonstration of what to do with aging movie stars 35 years after major triumphs.

Villeneuve also plays around with the visionary power of Scott's film as much as he can. He alternates between vast spaces where all voices seem to echo and over-crowded, rain-soaked urban settings that are Petri dishes for disease and evil and human space is at a premium.

Villeneuve has masters to help him--production designer Dennis Gasner ("The Truman Show," "Skyfall") and The Coen Brothers' cinematographer Roger Deakins.

It took 35 years for a sequel to be made to "Blade Runner." But it's a great movie sequel that dishonors no one -- least of all the audience.


"Blade Runner 2049"

3.5 stars (out of four)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis and Jared Leto. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. 163 minutes. Rated R for violence, some sex and nudity and language.





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