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Movie Review: #BladeRunner2049

Blade Runner 2049 is both a surreal visual spectacle and a powerful experiential journey.

Review by Matt Cummings

Science Fiction and Sci-Fi have existed as twins, constantly misidentified and suffering from people's perceptions of the other. On the one side, you have Sci-Fi, which merely entertains and is always content with its role as party guest: think Starship Troopers or Aliens. Then there's Science-Fiction, constantly finding itself reading a book while their cooler brother parties on. The greatest of these set humanity in space, the future, and many times both. Think 1997's Gattaca, 1969's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and of course 1982's Blade Runner. Blade Runner 2049 not only immediately enters the former, but perhaps stands atop; it's a cinematic experience which demands your attention, as trippy as it is beautiful, set in a time which feels more relevant than ever, and with plenty on its mind.

LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a successful Replicant hunter, trained to find and eliminate older models while his boss Joshi (Robin Wright) looks on in delight. All of that is about to change when K discovers a long-buried secret about Replicants that threatens to destroy the already challenging societal bonds between human and robot. His investigation takes him to none other than former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who himself has harbored a secret that has forced him off the grid. But eyes are watching, including the Replicant creator Wallace (Jared Leto) and his assistant Luv (Slyvia Hoeks). Forced together by fate, K and Deckard take the ultimate journey of humanity, all while Wallace attempts to stop them.

From the moment that the studio credits roll across the screen, we know that 2049 will be something different. Booming with an impressive score by Composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, 2049 is a spectacle on every level, beautifully shot by master Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who bathes the screen in elegant colors and epic cityscapes. Production values are flawless, returning us to a world that looks like 35 hard years have taken place. To Director Denis Villeneuve, the world of Deckard and K is one teetering on the edge of collapse, terrorized by man's penchant for violence and surviving on the backs of slave labor. In my opinion, Villeneuve is the only person capable of telling this story; and even with the impressive names he's assembled he will undergo incredible scrutiny once audiences have a chance to see his film. The original is beloved, an inspiration whose DNA appears in every Sci-Fi/Science Fiction film since. No one can deny the massive undertaking and potential fan response to anyone so bold to envision a sequel. And yet, Villeneuve succeeds, producing in many ways a better film than the original, even if it some flaws are apparent.

For one, 2049 contains a sub plot that doesn't require as much attention as it gets, adding more than 15 minutes that might have played better in a Director's Cut. The film only slightly suffers for it because its resolution is an important element to the overall story. Audiences new to the series will also be miffed by its enormous 163-minute runtime, prompting some to remark that they missed nothing while they stepped out to relieve themselves. Blade Runner 2049 is experiential, ill content to tell a traditional story, which is what makes it so incredible. It leaves you affected, as if its very presence has somehow pushed you aside, not in an effort to scar but to transport you into its world. Few films ever accomplish that, but just like the original we emerge from the theater slightly different in our programming. 2049 doesn't gain high praise because it's an action film - which it isn't - with perfectly-pirouetting heroes or fantastical space battles. This is true Science Fiction storytelling, with characters set in a bleak future trying to discover (or in some cases, deny) the truth. And yet knowing this will do little to set you up for what should be a very strong Oscar contender.

Writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green give every actor great moments, even someone like Bautista who's creating quite an impressive resume in his post-WWE career. Gosling is fabulous as we watch his world come apart and get shoved back together, all while events propel him towards Deckard who himself is a damaged hero. Ford is at his best here, imbuing Deckard with the same character flaws that continue to make him so appealing, all while he and Gosling enjoy amazing chemistry. But there are other names who turn in stellar work - including Armas and Hoeks - who encapsulate the opposite ends of this world. K and Deckard are sandwiched somewhere in between, and watching all of them work (particularly Ford in a key scene) is an extraordinary experience. 2049 is also a sensually impressive film, mostly slow-burning but sometimes going full frontal because it can. Leto seems at the heart of most of them, and it's interesting watch him work. He's not in it nearly enough, but his moments are striking.

The real question is not whether you should see Blade Runner 2049, but whether audiences will accept or reject it. I hope for the former, as this is perhaps the most important film about humanity we've seen in 2017 so far. The life which Villenueve breathes into this is almost too much to take in on one setting; and like the original, it makes a tough film to sell to general audiences. I hope that's not the case, because seeing this on anything but the largest screen possible with the best sound you can afford (IMAX, Atmos, XD are must-sees) will reduce some of the effect. This is a great test for American audiences, to measure whether commercial success and "high art" can gently coexist. 2049 has a lot to prove - as does studio Alcorn who's put all of its chips on the table - and the former succeeds as well as we could have hoped. Let's hope audiences give it the chance it deserves.

Fiercely unapologetic in its runtime, Blade Runner 2049 fully commits to its story and succeeds totally. Filled with beautifully-shot moments, fantastic acting, and a story that seems more relevant than ever, it demands your attention with both surrealism and noir panache. Great sequels arrive once in a generation; Blade Runner 2049 is that film. Audiences will no doubt emerge from the theater stunned by what they've seen, but that was the reaction we all had with the original. Sounds like a true Blade Runner movie to me.

Blade Runner 2049 is rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language and has a runtime of 163 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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