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'Blade Runner 2049' is a rough futuristic slog

Posted at 7:04 AM, Oct 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-06 11:58:26-04

"Blade Runner" fans waited 35 years for a sequel. Now they'll find themselves waiting for that sequel to end.

A methodical and heavy effort, "Blade Runner 2049" makes you feel every one of its 163 minutes. A tough, challenging sit, it's thought-provoking, beautifully shot and stacked with head-turning performances and philosophically challenging plotlines. 

On the other side of the ledger, it's also obtuse, confusing and slow. Many detractors have the same complaints about the original film, and the sequel embraces that sense of cool indifference.

Director Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners," "Arrival") follows the template Ridley Scott's 1982 template, crafting an engrossing dystopian cityscape littered with rust, junk and dirt juxtaposed with clean city skylines and dizzying traffic of flying cars.  

Ryan Gosling, flashing the command he has found since "Drive" (2011), ably steps into the role of conflicted protagonist Harrison Ford embodied in the original. Ford returns here, but you need to wait nearly two hours to see him. That wait does pay off in a spectacular action sequence and resonant dialogue exchange with Gosling.

Ford has tended to sleepwalk through many of his recent films, but there's something about stepping into his trademark roles -- including Indiana Jones and Han Solo -- that reignites his old spark and makes him as vital a screen presence as ever. The film could have used more of him.

Gosling plays K, a late model, obedient android hired as a "blade runner" by the LAPD to hunt down and kill older, rebellious models. His commander (Robin Wright) gives him a side job to find a rumored child somehow born to one of the older robots, and clashes during the task with a megalomaniacal businessman (Jared Leto).

As K attempts to unravel the mysteries that develop, he goes on a parallel inner journey in which he wrestles with moral and existential angst, and struggles on how to cope with his own memories and programming. 

Some are already hailing the movie as a masterpiece, and it's tough to argue with the bona fides. This is heady, involving stuff, and there could be Oscars awaiting the cast and crew. But the weakest link, is probably the editor. This is a bold and beautiful story, but it lacks urgency or economy.

A slimmer, sleeker cut of the movie could have delivered the same intelligence and impact in a more compelling and exciting package. "Blade Runner 2049" instead plays like a bloated director's cut geared mainly to those obsessed with the intricacies of the universe that most people could do without.

If you're a fan of serious cinema and top-flight science fiction, you are required to see this movie. Just don't be surprised if it feels more like homework than recess.

RATING: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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