The future is gray.
The color of ambiguity.
Neither black nor white. Somewhere in between.
The color of “Blade Runner.”
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The color scheme was established in 1982, when Ridley Scott’s path-breaking sci-fi classic was released. It’s the color scheme adhered to by director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) in “Blade Runner 2049.”
The perfect color scheme for a movie whose characters are ambiguous to their cores. Who is a human? Who is a replicant — human in appearance and biology, but produced in a lab and created to do the dirty work humans don’t want to sully themselves with?
Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original, and Michael Green, keep the audience guessing. Their characters, too.
Is Ryan Gosling’s blade runner, a hunter/destroyer of replicants who go rogue, a replicant himself? He’s not sure.
And what about Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford’s craggy blade runner from the original, back in the sequel? Same conundrum. Fans of the earlier film have debated for years about the true nature of Deckard’s character.
The essential question, posed in the first “Blade Runner” and amplified in “2049” is: What is the nature of humanity? What makes us human?
A character says it’s that indefinable something, the soul. The state of replicant technology, much advanced in the 30 years since 2019, the time period of the first movie, is such that perhaps the concept of soul is outdated.
What separates the two, according to the malevolent industrial genius Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who’s single-mindedly intent on making replicants more than human, is the ability to reproduce.
That feature is his holy grail. And that’s what drives the story of “2049.” Out there, somewhere, he believes, is a replicant’s child. He wants it found at all costs.
The movie is a detective story, with Gosling’s blade runner, called K early on, and Joe later, trudging the fog-shrouded, rain-soaked streets of oppressively crowded and dingy Los Angeles and environs, doggedly digging for clues that might lead him to the rumored child.
The key, he believes, is Deckard, who went missing 30 years ago. K sets out to track him down. Much violence attends his search.
In the tradition of a classic film noir detective, K’s demeanor is impassive and his speech terse. Deckard likewise. They’re peas from the same hardboiled pod.
Most of the other characters are similarly grim, including Joe’s cop boss, played by Robin Wright, and Wallace’s lethal right hand woman, played with quiet ferocity by Sylvia Hoeks.
The restraint of the performances is in sharp and startling contrast to the visual aspects of the movie. Villeneuve’s “2049” is deeply imagined and incredibly detailed.
The work of cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner give the film an expansive feel, with vast sets full of obscuring shadows, and in the case of Wallace’s aerie, copper-hued shimmering surfaces.
The instrumental score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch has an droning sound that enhances the bleakness.
In terms of the imaginative ways “2049” expands on the themes of the first movie, it is the rare sequel that’s at least the equal of its iconic predecessor.
Blade Runner 2049
☆☆☆ 1/2 stars out of 4
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright.
Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Running time: 2:40.
Rated: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.