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'Blade Runner 2049' Film Review: A mesmerizing sci-fi spectacle with soul

October 4, 2017Ben MK

For a film to follow in the footsteps of a seminal classic like Blade Runner without being overshadowed is one thing, but for it to do so while establishing itself on its own merits is something else entirely. Director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t just meet expectations, it shatters them, expertly building on the 35-year legacy of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterwork, while also delivering a worthy, genre-defining tale unto its own.

Set 30 years after the events of the first movie, Blade Runner 2049 follows K (Ryan Gosling), a dedicated LAPD officer and a duty-bound Blade Runner. Like his forebearer, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, who also appears in the film), K has been tasked with tracking down and “retiring” rogue replicants, especially those belonging to the Tyrell Corporation’s Nexus 8 product line. And when we first meet him, that’s exactly the type of mission he’s on, stalking his quarry to a protein farm on California’s barren outskirts, where he pays an unannounced visit to the farm’s sole worker, a quiet hulk of a man played by Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista.

The scene plays out at an unhurried pace — something Villeneuve maintains for the duration of the movie — but by the time it’s all said and done, both K and the audience are left with a gripping mystery that Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green spend the remainder of the film’s nearly-three-hour running time peeling back the layers of. Beyond its core questions, however, this long-awaited sequel also sets out to tackle some of the deeper issues and themes that have permeated the Blade Runner universe since 1982 — and, of course, since the 1968 publication of the story that started it all, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The result is a contemplative look not just at the nature of the soul and what it means to be human, but also at the way we live our lives today. After all, we’re only a couple of years away from the original’s 2019 setting, and many of the technological advances that were relegated to the realm of science fiction three decades ago have now become a reality. Consider, for example, the fact that we’ve largely become a paperless society. But what if a catastrophic event were to wipe bare all the hard drives in the world? Blade Runner 2049’s narrative makes allusions to a “big blackout” that did just that, negating the existence of everything from bank records to baby photos.

Evaluating the movie solely on its aesthetic value, the outcome is equally impressive. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins lends his expert eye to creating some of the most visually arresting neo-noir and post-apocalyptic vistas ever committed to the medium, while legendary composer Hans Zimmer has teamed up with Benjamin Wallfisch (It, Hidden Figures) to deliver a synth-laced score that melds perfectly into the events as they unfold onscreen. What Blade Runner 2049’s visuals and music have in common, though, is how they both pay homage to the original, while also riffing on it in a way that feels like a natural evolutionary progression.

Factor in the superb cast — including Ana de Armas as K's beguiling companion and Robin Wright as his hard-nosed lieutenant, as well as Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis and Jared Leto — and Blade Runner fans will find that Villeneuve has put the utmost care into ensuring that his followup doesn’t tarnish the reputation Scott’s original has built up over the years. Bolstered by a higher quotient of action-packed set-pieces than its predecessor, Villeneuve’s dystopian vision of Los Angeles is just as philosophically-minded, reflective of our current society and speculative about what the future holds, making Blade Runner 2049 a truly mesmerizing sci-fi spectacle with soul.

Blade Runner 2049 releases October 6th, 2017 from Warner Bros. The film has an MPAA rating of R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 43 min.

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