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Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Blade Runner has confounded audiences since its 1982 release and has produced reactions over the years that range from admiration to frustration. Philip K. Dick’s vision of replicants trying to extend their lives in a dystopian San Francisco (Los Angeles in the movies) was unlike anything in cinemas prior and continues to be a template for writers and directors. When Scott announced that a sequel of Blade Runner was in consideration, the announcement was met with a similar level of mixed reactions that ranged from obvious enthusiasm to skeptical consternation. Can the director Denis Villeneuve live up to the inevitable artistic expectation and comparison with Blade Runner 2049?
Officer K (Ryan Gosling) serves as a blade runner for the LAPD in 2049, a role that requires that he must find, identify and ‘retire’ older models of replicants. While on an assignment amongst the farms surrounding the city, he uncovers clues that lead him on a journey that could unlock his past and could potentially open the door to a new future for replicants and humanity. Upon further investigation, he uncovers a web of deceit and corruption that leads him to cross paths with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who is one of the most powerful men in the world, the head of the replicant creating Wallace Corporation. Along with law enforcement, the sociopathic entrepreneur proves to have a vested interest in K’s discoveries. In an attempt to stay ahead of Wallace’s contemporaries and the LAPD, the investigator must try to find the answers to his questions from the man who has been in hiding for over 30 years, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
The two questions that most will ask about Blade Runner 2049 are if viewing the original is necessary before experiencing the sequel and more importantly if Villeneuve’s creation comparable to Scott’s original? The first question can only be answered with another question, how could anyone not have seen Blade Runner? It should be on anyone’s must-see list of classic films and it is essential to see before embarking on the 163-minute journey that comes with seeing the sequel. The second query will take more time to answer.
Similar to the first outing in the rain-soaked streets of Los Angeles, this storyline is a combination of visionary brilliance, intense frustration and something that is unique to itself. Denis Villeneuve would only do this film with the blessing of Ridley Scott and he received euphoric support from the original creator. The younger director’s visionary choice to partner with celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Sicario) was a first step in putting his own claim on this treasure. The visual smorgasbord that is on offer throughout the blade runner’s search for answers helped to make the marathon screening worth every minute. These visuals complemented the numerous twists of the well-crafted screenplay that will satisfy many of the queries fans have had for years, but will open a fresh batch of speculations for the future of this franchise. Plot holes do exist and the screenplay is not perfect, but it does move dangerously close to receiving an excellent mark. The content will be perplexing for some but proves to be an exceptional follow-up to the first installment of the canon.
The superior artistic elements were supported by the strength of a marvelous cast and show that the Canadian director has an eye for every detail. Each actor has a point and fills the role they represent on screen. Gosling continues to show that his brooding and understated style of acting was the right choice for his character. Demonstrating that he was able to convey the depth of emotion with minimal deviations in his demeanor. Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks and Carla Juri were all strong choices for their part in this potential cinematic gem, but it was Robin Wright’s LAPD Lieutenant Joshi that was the standout amongst this talented troupe. She manages to steal each scene and provides a dangerous beauty to the film. Her performance tops off a bevy of magnificent acting achievements by all involved.
To answer the second question, this film builds on the strengths of its predecessor but evolves into something more. It is hard not to compare the two, but what should be on the ‘must do’ for audiences is to view the first film. Then go and experience Blade Runner 2049 and realize that this is like viewing bookends of cinematic brilliance.