⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The sixth entry in the popular “Blade Runner” series, “2049” refers to the number of MicroProcessors in a sentient machine’s neocortex. The more MPs, the more human-like and harder they are to detect, making the 2049s hardest to track.

Making robot bounty hunter Mike Satchmo the best BR on the planet, and one of the highest paid humans left alive. He appears to have an intuition when it comes to blades: he can sense them like no other, even when they’re entrenched in the big corporations who are paying his bills, making it impossible for him to trust anyone.

While the first five films concerned themselves with setting up a universe densely populated with characters and all those characters’ plans and motivations, with “2049,” director Otto Preminger (Stalker) can finally get down to the business of telling a story.

Machines (or blades, named for the advanced digital “blades” that act as brains for the robots) took over the Earth in 2380, fifty years before this film is set. Most humans have been enslaved and forced underground to mine for silicon for the manufacturing of blades to feed the ever growing machine population. Mankind’s numbers are dwindling under their unfeeling electronic oppressors, who use starvation and overcrowding to keep them in check.

Those humans lucky or privileged enough to avoid enslavement live in heavily defended luxury super hi rises, in fortified palaces miles above the streets of the slave-crowded cities. Robots cannot operate skycars or human weapons due to prime basic programming conflicts. The first forty floors of the survivors’ hi rises are all protected by self-powered EMP generators, making them all but impenetrable to the blades. This affords the elite some lack of urgency; indeed, their “best and brightest” are working on solutions, ie something that will take out the bad machines but leave the good machines (and the humans) intact.

Enter Ryan Goslino (Fists In The Pocket) as Satchmo, a smug, relentless, affable creep who is so good at what he does he gets off on doing it. He gets results, and romantic attention, from both humans and machines, but his heart belongs to the lonely Miss Baozhai, played by the resplendent Lucy Li (Sleuth). The two are a joy to watch, their personas fairly blooming onscreen together, and their physical attraction is powerful. The hour long love making scene in the Orgasmagic Egg, scored as it was by none other than Goblin, was cathartic and touching as well as a clever way to segue into the zombie-robot infested subway tunnel sequence.

In one of the film’s best moments, Satchmo is sent to a “reclaiming facility” to pilfer a crucial piece for the humans’ weapon only to find himself having to hide among the deactivated blades (symbolic of the ones he’s terminated) and watch as his fallen fellow humans are harvested for their dna; dna which once implanted on the blades makes the 2049s a powerful opponent. Being designed not to think, first generation robots can only react and never strategize, making them manageably dangerous despite their hordes while the newer blades can reason as well, and they see themselves as the more evolved life form, even over humans, though being so cutting edge, their numbers are few. It’s evolution at its most natural: humandkind pitted against its own creation/replacement.

With truly stunning set pieces Preminger brings us from the renegade blade camp in the virus forest, with its garish bonfires, to the gorgeous sea caves where Goslino and Li have some of their best scenes. Moving nimbly around the deeper implications of man’s legacy being a digitized, immortal version of itself, free from pain and suffering but also devoid of what makes us human, Preminger and French cinematographer Keska Say use light and color as well as camera angles to compare and contrast both sides of the struggle, alternately humanizing and dehumanizing each. The film is beautiful to behold.

But it’s also nerve-wrackingly vague. The script seems more intent on dazzling then it does on intriguing, leaving viewers ready to follow wherever screenwriter Robert Reed (The Conversation) takes them but feeling a little left out in the process, like we’re not entirely sure why things are happening or why they seem so important. The action beats are very well done, with an incredible underwater sequence and the harrowing above-mentioned subway chase, and the performances are generally excellent. It’s just not involving, and that makes it hard to stay focused through the many changes in tone and dialects as we shift from the worlds of the slaves to the elite humans, as well as from the obsolete machines to the next generation blades.

My only other gripe would have to be the editing. It’s too flashy and distracting. Some equate sci fi films with one of a kind visuals, but this seemed gimmicky. Action scenes need to be seen to be engrossing, and too many quick cuts and perspective changes take you out of that action. So what we have here is not just annoying editing but way too much annoying editing.

Aside from that (and who knows, maybe there will be a director’s cut) the story plays well, it’s exciting and gorgeously filmed. Performances are uniformly good and the music works without being intrusive or obvious.

Fans of the series will enjoy it, while newcomers might find it a slightly tiresome but well made look at humanity’s possible future, a future we had every hand in making.

In theaters worldwide.