October 06, 2017

R: October 6th, 2017 | R: 164 minutes | R: R

The sequel to BLADE RUNNER has some big shoes to fill. Three decades after Ridley Scott's futuristic noir redefined the sci-fi genre in 1982, director Denis Villeneuve tackles the same unanswerable questions in a film that stands its own ground from the original. Set 30 years after Deckard challenged the idea of artificial humanity and retired, BLADE RUNNER 2049 picks up with K (Ryan Gosling), an agent hunting down renegade replicants of the Nexus-8 line that was developed by Wallace Corp. a decade after Tyrell Corp.'s Nexus-6 models were discontinued. While retiring a farmer replicant, K discovers a piece of the puzzle that blurs the lines between what is human and artificial intelligence, and he takes it on his own to reveal the mystery he stumbled upon.

Much like the original, this film thematically explores topics of humanity and artificial intelligence relationship, social stratification, and postcolonialism. Villeneuve's ambitious efforts not only continue the discourse started by Scott but elevate it. It challenges philosophical ideologies about the human soul and identity, all through an astoundingly strong visual language reinforcing the cyberpunk beauty that is already established. For example, one of the many questions the film ultimately asks is if one's self is found within a constructed consciousness or on the soul and body matter. These are deeply philosophical inquiries with no real answers that BLADE RUNNER is now recognized for attempting to address. Unfortunately, to comply with the director's request, there is not much else that can be shared without giving too much information away, but there is something special about a film that can match its insurmountable style with just as much substance.

Undoubtedly, style is BLADE RUNNER 2049's most distinguishing aspect. Roger Deakins gives perhaps his most complete work of cinematography to date, a tall order for an accomplished director of photography and one that could very possibly earn him his first Academy Award. The paralyzingly gorgeous vision of a futuristic Los Angeles (and Las Vegas) are often contrasting between a technologic, neon urban setting with ceaseless rain and giant holograms, and striking imagery of nature, such as waves crashing, snow falling, and a dust-storm-looking radiated environment. The absolute beauty of Deakins's lens blends in with the elements presented throughout the film. Concept artist Syd Mead and production designer Dennis Gassner also deserve credit for crafting a sleek world with little to none aesthetic banality, absent of rough edges even in the most postmodernist of the film's looks. Additionally, the cinematography substracts from the moments of hyperviolence and psychological distress by providing chillingly calm moments of subduing sublimity, in which Deakins and company combine vulnerability and melancholy. The awe-inspiring visuals are accompanied by a pounding sound design that will stay with the viewer long after the credits roll. It is an unsettling, loud, and precise work that complements the conceptualization of Villeneuve's vision.

As phenomenal as the art direction is, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is nothing without the driving force that is Ryan Gosling. His performance parallels that of 1982's Harrison Ford. By making K an outcast of society, Villeneuve lets Gosling enrich the character's alienation with subtle interactions and mannerisms, only caught by attentive eyes. Ana de Armas co-stars as Joi, as she does an amazing job of portraying the supportive, chameleon-like qualities of her character. Harrison Ford returns as Deckard, and Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, and Jared Leto all meet their high demands. Hoeks is particularly riveting as the simple yet unstoppable villainess with no moral code.

For all its thematic and pictorial feast, the film moves at a slow pace that some might find distractingly irritating. It is a valid criticism to say that BLADE RUNNER 2049 drags on during certain scenes; however, the film is dictated by its own rules. What feels like a calculated improvisation keeps the editing going, lingering shots for more seconds, sometimes minutes, than they should. It takes a note from the original BLADE RUNNER, in which the key to world-building scenes was to let the viewer settle in the atmospheric mood by letting mundane procedures occur with no real intention. This allows the film to take its time advancing the main narrative while pushing audiences to truly experience the cathartic pictures they are being exposed to. After all, one must accept these ideas as an active viewer and listener in an otherwise meaningless endeavor to push the influential envelope of the original and acutely extend the discussion. Villeneuve promotes a smart, reciprocating sensibility for interpretive theorization and nostalgic collective.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 is elusive, its plot is carefully written to improve rather than to copy while keeping static questions continually unanswered. Through creative excess, Villeneuve and Deakins pay their dues and then some, weaving from one breathtaking scene to the next. It recaptures the thematic alienation and familiar modernity of the first. As such, the ever-nascent nature of Scott's enriching philosophy confesses to a concrete logic: the sequel's raison d'ĂȘtre lies not in being a mere extension, but a supremely heightened expectation on how modern blockbusters should intellectually look, sound, and feel.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Gerardo Gerardo (Contributor) is a film student living in Philadelphia. He usually prefers independent and classic films, but he will watch anything in theaters.
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