Few films, if any, have had a trajectory quite like Ridley Scott's 1982 "Blade Runner."
Dismissed by critics, abandoned by audiences, mocked for a last-minute voice-over its credited screenwriters abhorred, its nervy mixture of science fiction and film noir was pronounced dead on arrival.
Except it wasn't.
Powered by its visually intoxicating look at a dystopian future that seemed all too plausible, "Blade Runner" rose from the grave to become a tastemaker's choice. So much so that it inspired a $150-million sequel, "Blade Runner 2049," made by top creative people like director Denis Villeneuve and star Ryan Gosling who consider the original one of their hardcore favorites. So much for being DOA.
Given all these ups and downs, what's remarkable about "Blade Runner 2049" is how good it is. You can quibble with aspects of it and people being people (as opposed to replicants) surely will. But the bottom line is indisputable: As shaped by Villeneuve and his masterful creative team, especially production designer Dennis Gassner and cinematographer Roger Deakins, this film puts you firmly, brilliantly, unassailably in another world of its own devising, and that is no small thing.
As co-written by Hampton Fancher (back from the original) and Michael Green, "Blade Runner 2049" is set 30 years after the first film's enigmatic ending. It follows a next generation LAPD blade runner (Gosling) who scours Southern California for rogue replicants (machine-made humans) to destroy and stumbles on a mystery with potentially profound consequences.
Strongly directed by Villeneuve, whose last film was another otherworldly epic, "Arrival," "Blade Runner 2049" manages for the most part to pull off a very delicate dance.
On the one hand, it couldn't be more respectful of and indebted to the original. It doesn't just use that film's celebrated visual conceptualization of 2019 Los Angeles as its jumping off point, it brings back star Harrison Ford and has such a multitude of references to its predecessor, including an updated version of the spinner flying car, that it's dizzying trying to keep track of them all.
Yet "Blade Runner 2049" never feels like it isn't its own film. It smartly expands on the questions of what is human and what is not that were originally contained in Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and extends its geographical reach south to San Diego and east to an eerie Las Vegas choking in red dust.
Also, thanks to top casting director Francine Maisler, familiar faces like Robin Wright, Jared Leto and Dave Bautista smoothly share the screen with less-seen but completely compelling players like Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks and Carla Juri.