This is going to be one of the shortest reviews one is certain to encounter when reading about Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2049′ and with good reason: the power of it comes from how little you know going into the theater. Not only that, but, to take a moment of humility, I feel uncertainty in how to properly convey such a cinematic experience. But to overcome that and cut to the chase: ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is one of a small handful of masterpieces produced by 2017 and well on its way to becoming an iconic film in its own right.
It’s been thirty years since disillusioned blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) “retired” violent replicants and disappeared into a self-imposed exile with the experimental replicant Rachael (Sean Young) into the grimy night of dystopian Los Angeles and a great deal has happened in the world. The Wallace Corporation, led by the blind and egomaniacal Niander Wallace (Jared Leto in a small supporting role that further establishes his ability to work miracles with little material), has taken over the now defunct Tyrell Corporation’s job and produced a new legion of truly subservient replicants, meaning a new generation of blade runners are needed to retire the older models. One of them is Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a stoic shell of a man who slowly finds himself getting deeper in a mystery that will lead him to his legendary predecessor and a puzzle that could redefine humanity’s place on the pyramid. That’s all that should be said about the plot because, as mentioned earlier, there is so much going on from the opening scene to its emotional climax best experienced as Officer K first experiences them.
To risk sounding like a hyperactive fanboy, all the early word and potential hyperbole is spot on: this is the stunning masterwork you’ve heard it is for the last week. Original writer Hampton Fancher, who will turn 80 next year, collaborates with co-writer Michael Green (who also helped write ‘Logan‘) to expand on the world Philip K. Dick originally envisioned with his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, posing new questions that feel like a natural progression from what Mr. Fancher, David Webb Peoples and Ridley Scott originally brought to life in 1982. There are deep questions and ideas posed that would seem unfathomable then and work like a charm here due to the time passed. When a sequel takes well over thirty years to make, it had better have a damn good story to justify it’s existence and that’s something ‘Blade Runner 2049’ has in spades thanks to those ideas.
But a good script needs a good… everything else to bring it to life. And the involvement of Denis Villeneuve is a practical guarantee what you get is not what you always expect, nor did you know it’s what you needed, especially when following on the heals of “Sicario” and “Arrival”. To reuse a term from earlier, “expansion” is a crucial aspect of what Mr. Villeneuve and his troupe bring to the production. Dennis Gassner’s awe-inspiring production design expands on the legendary work Lawrence G. Paull established in the original, editor Joe Walker continues to establish himself as one of the premiere editors of the 21st century, the sound design and visual effects are sure to be game changers and frequently used demonstrations of peoples’ home theater systems and Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer team up once again this year to further the experimental soundscape of Vangelis’ iconic soundtrack. And of course, the work of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. Others have stated this looks to be the year Mr. Deakins finally snares the elusive Oscar many have felt he’s been due; and that’s an understatement. The entire film is a showcase for some of the most stunningly original and visual imagery in both Mr. Deakins’ oeuvre and Hollywood moviemaking in general. The Academy would do well to just cancel the Cinematography race this year and present Mr. Deakins his Oscar with the honorary award winners later this month.
And then the cast. On the surface, Ryan Gosling is exactly who you’d expect for a character like K. Stoic and of few words, but unlike the way Harrison Ford brought Rick Deckard to life in ‘Blade Runner’, Mr. Gosling’s choice is to use the stillness of his features to tell K’s story. Speaking of Deckard, when Mr. Ford returns to the world he left behind thirty-five years ago to further explore the worlds of Indiana Jones and Han Solo, he slips back into it like a foot slipping into its favorite slipper. The world has changed Deckard deeply and Mr. Ford wears face is a tapestry of world weariness; on the topic of Oscar nominations, Mr. Ford should really be in the running for the Supporting award this year. Other standouts include new female characters Ana de Armas as Joi, K’s love interest, and Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, Wallace’s personal replicant bodyguard. Each are halves of the same coin, with Ms. de Armas portraying the beauty and innocence still breathing in a dystopian hell while Ms. Hoeks continues the tradition of Dutch actors playing fearsome figures, saying little and causing gruesome carnage along the way.
The second you finish reading this, don’t think. Just open another tab on your browser or the app on your phone, go to Fandango or Movie Tickets or whatever app you’re inclined to use and take part in what is unquestionably one of the grandest achievements of this year. “Blade Runner 2049” is one of the few sequels that many will one day say transcended the depth and power of the original, with an equally magnetic and powerful story, game changing visuals and the brilliance of a true visionary bringing to the movies what they’ve been needing in a long time.
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