Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Denis Villaneuve crafts a modern but timeless science fiction classic with an art house sensibility.

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Villaneuve’s follow up to the 35 year old Ridley Scott science fiction classic is the rare example of a sequel that is more interesting and original than the film that spawned it.

Early in 2017, filmgoers were very divided on the live-action adaptation of the 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell. Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 cyberpunk classic was a hard-sci-fi look at what defines life and intelligence in a cyberpunk age; could there be a soul in silicon. These were questions that ran in the subtext of the film that influenced and presaged it, Ridley Scott’s 1982 opus Blade Runner, but that Oshii made the main throughline of his film that, in turn, deeply influenced works like Ex Machina and The Matrix. Needless to say Ruper Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell didn’t add anything to this lineage, giving viewers an empty husk of a film. A film that mirrored scenes in the original but that ultimately came across as a deeply flawed film that fundamentally misunderstood what made the original film interesting and provocative; the idea that life can be defined beyond the physical, even a digital consciousness, or “ghost,” can become more aware than the humans around it and what implications does that have for humanity.

Denis Villeneuve completely understands this subtext in the original Blade Runner and runs with it to make Blade Runner 2049 a compelling latter day fable on the potential evolution of technology in a world where human replicants are a mass produced commodity needed on an industrial scale. In this world of 2049, there are individuals like Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner tasked to dispatch rogue replicants with open ended lifespans that were created by the now-defunct Tyrell Corporation 30 years earlier. Officer K’s life is a tightly regulated one of routine, that is, until he accidentally uncovers a long dormant and forgotten mystery while apprehending a rogue medic named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) that threatens his livelihood and everyone around him. In the wake of his discovery, he is tasked to uncover the root of what it means in a film noir structure not dissimilar to that of the original Blade Runner; a journey with a much deeper and ultimately more rewarding payoff than Scott’s 1982 film.

The less you know going into Blade Runner 2049 the better. That being said, its a film that is much more a child of Phillip K. Dick’s original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, than the 1982 original ever was. Villaneuve makes this harsh, post-apocalyptic world seem real; with black market economies of child laborers, where owning wood or animals is a sign of wealth and status. It’s very much in the same vein of film as Children of Men or Spike Jonze’s Her; films examining how technology has fundamentally changed our relationships with each other and the world around us and how does that affect our empathy and humanity in a landscape where technology has been anthropomorphized. Gosling is solid in the film, providing a grounded relatable avatar for the audience into this world. Also of note are solid, star-turning performances from Ana De Armas and Mackenzie Davis, who both provide glimpses at the wider world we inhabit as we follow K and who you just want more of during the film. Sylvia Hoeks is a menacing and magnetic presence throughout the film and Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace, even limited as he is in screen time, is a dark god incarnate. Leto’s best performance since Dallas Buyer’s Club is here as someone who inspires awe and dread among those around him, and someone who both envies and actively despises the machines he must create for his livelihood. Harrison Ford’s arc is also intriguing as well and its nice to see Ford stretching his acting chops in a role these days versus one where he can just coast on nostalgia alone.

Blade Runner 2049 is one of this year’s best films and its an engrossing and deeply engaging film that while it may be somewhat predictable early on, delivers satisfying twists and resolutions and makes you want more of it. Deeply recommended.

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