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Review: 'Blade Runner 2049' Will Satisfy Fans As It Expands On Original


Ridley Scott's science fiction film "Blade Runner" was a modest hit in theaters in 1982 and a massive one later on video. Scott's punk noir dystopia initially got mixed reviews, but the director kept re-cutting his film. And by 2007, when he released what he called a final cut, "Blade Runner" had inspired a whole generation of filmmakers. Well, now one of that new generation has directed a sequel. Critic Bob Mondello says in many respects, "Blade Runner 2049" surpasses the original.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's 30 years after the events in the first movie, and what was noir has turned all wrong - daylight filtered through a toxic haze so thick you can barely make out the dead trees. The sun's ability to cut through this murk has diminished to the point that 2049 Los Angeles needs snowplows to keep its streets clear, artificial farming to put food on its tables - also blade runners to clear away the few old-school replicants that remain after a series of rebellions.


DAVE BAUTISTA: (As Sapper Morton) Plan on taking me in?

RYAN GOSLING: (As K) I would much prefer that to the alternative.

MONDELLO: That's blade runner K, whose job gets him roughed up a lot. He's clearing the way for the newer bioengineered androids that their blind maker claims are safer.


JARED LETO: (As Niander Wallace) Every leap of civilization was built off the back of slaves. Replicants are the future, but I can only make so many.

MONDELLO: The devil's always in the details, no? K, played by a stone-faced Ryan Gosling, may not work for this guy, but he works for authorities who've given up regulating corporations to do their bidding instead. His work takes him trekking through an American Southwest that is the result of their neglect, protein farms that look like massive satellite dishes stretching to the horizon, a sea wall hundreds of feet high holding back the Pacific, a garbage dump smoldering from Los Angeles all the way to San Diego where doomed children in rags pull scrap metal from discarded electronics for a latter-day Fagin.


LENNIE JAMES: (As Mister Cotton) The nickel is for the colonial ships - closest any of them will - any of us - is going to get to that grand life off-world. So come on now. Which ore do you have in mind?

MONDELLO: If this sequence looks like 21st century Dickens, Director Denis Villeneuve has crafted others to conjure up Nabokov, "The Great Gatsby," "Pinocchio," "Treasure Island," "Macbeth," the Bible. K's very name suggests a link to Kafka. And where the first film had a unicorn, this one has a kind of Trojan horse. Grad students are going to have a field day interpreting the literary references. Movie-savvy audiences will relish equally diverse film riffs. And "Blade Runner" fans - well, they'll get everything they came for and then some when Harrison Ford's Deckard shows up looking weather-beaten...


HARRISON FORD: (As Rick Deckard) I had your job once.

MONDELLO: ...But definitely not beaten in any other sense.


FORD: (As Rick Deckard) I was good at it.

GOSLING: (As K) I know.

FORD: (As Rick Deckard) What do you want?

GOSLING: (As K) I want to ask you some questions.

MONDELLO: Questions, yes - the film is crammed with those, all of them in the service of the script's big ideas.


LETO: (As Niander Wallace) The future of the species is finally unearthed.

MONDELLO: They are ideas expanded from the first film about what it means to be human, about who gets to have a soul, about the costs of slavery, the price of feeling, the allure of surfaces - also about where society is headed. We may not have flying cars, colonies on other planets or replicants, but there are plenty of ways in which we've more or less caught up to the 2019 the original "Blade Runner" predicted - omnipresent advertising and surveillance, street violence met by police-state tactics, climate so screwed up it seems as if Mother Nature is at once in retreat and coming for us with everything she has left.

Flash forward three more decades, and Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins give us staggering new visions of the future, ones that confound and trance and mystify in "Blade Runner 2049" even while making rich cinematic senses. And let me stress the cinematic. Few movies in recent years have so rewarded being seen on the biggest possible screen, being heard, being felt in the theater. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.