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Movie Review: "Blade Runner 2049" Ranks Among The Best Sequels Ever Made

Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Slyvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Edward James Olmos and Jared Leto 
Based on the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Phillip K. Dick
Story By Hampton Fancher
Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green 
Directed by Denis Villeneuve 

Reviewed by Paul & Patrick Gibbs

 Out of Four

If there are three words that we feel are most recklessly overused in hyping films, those words would be "visionary", "masterpiece" and "classic." Every time a studio wants to hype a filmmaker who has a sense of style but hasn't won an Oscar, we hear at least one of these words, and it is our opinion that this kind of hyperbole can be detrimental as it prematurely lifts directors and films to levels they that they can't live up to.

Tyrell's Owl in the original Blade Runner
(Image Courtesy Warner Bros.)
Now then: Ridley Scott's 1982 classic Blade Runner was a visionary masterpiece of science fiction neo-noir that has been often imitated but never replicated (though its influence can be seen on some truly great films including The Matrix, Ex-Machina and both of Spielberg's early 2000's ventures into bleak, futuristic sci fi.). To its most devoted fans, Blade Runner is practically a religion, and amazingly, each newly tweaked version Scott has given us since its initial release has been even better (Harrison Ford doing listless voice overs should be saved strictly for planetariums.). The 2007 "Final Cut" is the best, though any version is worth a look, and its themes of what it means to be human, the responsibilities of creation and of mortality are resonant as ever.

Ryan Gosling as "K",  a Blade Runner for the LAPD
tasked with "retiring" rogue replicants.
(Image Courtesy Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures).

The new chapter picks up around 30 years after we last saw Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael  (Sean Young) peparing to leave Los Angeles in 2019. In 2049,  bioengineered human slaves called "Replicants" have been integrated into society, the Tyrell's Corporation having g been bought out by a man named Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who had fixed the problems that caused previous models to rebel. . One of thsee replicants, Officer K (Ryan Gosling),  works as a Blade Runner for the LAPD, hunting down and "retiring" rogue older model Replicants, Nexus 8's,  who rebel against orders and try to live lives of their own. K is a nickname, as he is only recognized by a serial number (it's also a pretty clever reference to the author of the original source material, which gets a few nice nods in this film.).

K's investigation into an elusive replicant freedom movement leads him to a farm where he is meant to take down a Nexus 8 named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista.). But a shocking discovery leads him off onto an entirely new investigation.

K meets some resistance from "farmer" Sapper Morton.
(Image Courtesy Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures).

We're not going to go any further into the story, because while there are spoilers galore available on the internet, they will not be coming from us. The less you can enter this film knowing, the better. That's not to say that  this is one of those films that is all about twists and turns, but it is so intellectually and philosophically rich in both story and themes that it needs to be experienced first hand, and it's so rare to see a film that fully engages your mind throughout, never letting it wander (one that does so at a run time of 2 hours and 44 minutes is even more rare.).

Joi to the world.
(Image Courtesy Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures)

Ridley Scott has described the original as his most complete and personal film, and as such it may seem confusing that he chose to come back behind the lens for two mediocre Alien prequels, but not this one. But when one thinks further on his statements, Blade Runner was indeed personal and complete: it was Scott's masterpiece, and one of our pet peeves with the over usage of the terms in that by definition, an artist only gets one. And since a Blade Runner film can be nothing less than a masterpiece, it required a bold, visionary new director to make it a classic, and Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) is easily one of the most interesting directors of his time. He gives us a new film from a new point of view, a mesmerizing and transcendent exploration of the nature of what it is to be human, to live, to kill, to die . . . and to live on.  

Blade Runner meets Blade Runner.
(Image Courtesy Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures)
Ryan Gosling is perfectly at home in the film noir genre, and just as Drive brought comparisons to De Niro or Pacino and The Nice Guys brought to mind the late Nicolas Cage, , the obvious temptation here is to compare him to Humphrey Bogart or especially a young Harrison Ford. But instead, we'll simply say that he gives a leading man performance worthy of comparison to the only actor he has to live up to at this point: Ryan Gosling. The ponderous and quite literally soul searching nature of the character  requires saying a lot while not speaking, and Gosling is a master at this. As for Ford, it may be wishful thinking to say that reprising the role that was meant to signify his arrival as a 
serious actor may well lead him to a Creed style supporting actor nomination,  but it's not out of the question and it's certainly earned here. While fans are asked to wait quite a long time before he comes on screen, once he does, he makes every frame count, bringing an unforgettable sad and weary nuance to his portrayal of Rick Deckard. Sylvia Hoeks is terrific as Wallace's assistant, Luv, and both Ana de Armas (Knock Knock) and Mackenzie Davis (The Martian) create wonderfully enigmatic characterizations. Dave Bautista makes a very strong impression in his brief role, showing a surprising potential as a dramatic actor.

If anyone truly deserves an Oscar for this one, though, it is the incomparable Roger Deakins, quite possibly the best cinematographer working today. He is long overdue the recognition, and while he is certainly helped here by production designer Dennis Gassner (and of course by Villeneuve), his use of light and shadow is unmatched by anyone else. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch provide a terrific score than channels Vangelis without trying to ape him (aside from one cue from the original that is beautifully poignant.).

Blade Runner 2049 is absolutely a best of the year candidate. It's not for all tastes (if you don't like the original, don't bother), but it is a genuine work of art that will be hailed for years to come. it is everything we are told a sequel is not, and everything it should be. It is the kind of movie that inspires people to become artists, and to embrace the passions of art, life and love with a new sense of commitment. That may sound grandiose, but if the first film can inspire someone like Denis Villeneuve, one has to wonder with excitement where we'll go from here.

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