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Review: Blade Runner 2049

There’s a lot of talk about miracles in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049; the plot revolves around a scientific impossibility that threatens to unravel the very fabric of the film’s futuristic society. Appropriate, considering the movie is itself nothing short of miraculous: a sequel that builds upon the story, style, and themes of the original without diminishing or disrespecting its legacy.

A word of caution: don’t come seeking answers to thirty-five-year-old questions. Villeneuve undertook this monumental project not to clarify the lingering ambiguities in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, but to continue its exploration of what it means to be human, sentient, alive. Is it ethical to compel a machine to obey when it dreams of freedom? If an android proves capable of procreation, can either it or the child still be considered artificial? Can a hologram programmed to cater to its owner’s desires truly fall in love?

Ryan Gosling’s Officer K, a next-generation replicant specifically designed to hunt down older models, is the ideal vessel for this spiritual journey. As previously evidenced in Drive, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Only God Forgives, the actor possesses the remarkable ability to project a deeply-buried fragility and vulnerability without cracking his cold, unsentimental “tough guy” facade. Consequently, watching our protagonist’s long-repressed emotions and passions gradually bubble to the surface as he uncovers increasingly unsettling truths about himself and the world he inhabits is a thoroughly captivating experience. His epic quest takes him far beyond the dreary, rain-swept urban Hell of Scott’s Los Angeles, to barren farmlands, towering scrapheaps, and radiation-ravaged wastelands—and Roger Deakins’ effortlessly elegant cinematography perfectly captures the paradoxical majesty and desolation of every decaying landscape.

Like Aliens and The Godfather, Part II before it, Blade Runner 2049 actually surpasses its predecessor in certain respects. Yes, it elaborates upon the 1982 film both visually and narratively, but it also manages to find a distinctive voice and identity, allowing it to stand on its own merits even as it continues the story of Rick Deckard and the Tyrell Corporation. I remained a hardened skeptic through multiple trailers and rave reviews, but the finished product has finally converted me: Villeneuve’s work is not only a worthy successor, but a modern masterpiece in its own right, destined to be ranked among the best examples of cyberpunk fiction of all time.

[Originally written October 16, 2017.]

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