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BLADE RUNNER 2049 Proves Sci-fi Spectacle Can Also Be Thoughtful (Review)

Blade Runner is a movie I didn’t truly discover until college. It always looked like the coolest movie ever made, with its genre-creating future noir aesthetic and spacey music by Vangelis, but it took me a few times of watching the director’s cut and Final Cut before I was finally able to fully crack into the cold, aloof pacing and plot that’s more intuited than explained. How, then, could any follow-up film–especially one made 30+ years after the original–hope to hold up in any satisfying way? Denis Villeneuve‘s long-awaited Blade Runner 2049 answers that question in a definitive, satisfying, and dare I say more accessible way.

Villeneuve has established his knack for tackling heavy topics in a way that’s both visually stunning and richly personal. It’s clear from his approach to cinema–in films like Arrival and Enemy specifically–that he likes sci-fi, and he’s said that Ridley Scott‘s original Blade Runner was a major influence on him. If anyone was going to tackle a follow-up to the 1982 original, he’s the one to do it, especially with original film screenwriter Hampton Fancher returning to pen the story and co-write the screenplay with American Gods and Logan writer Michael Green.

In the original, Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a reluctant cop sent to “retire” renegade replicants who just want more life. This sequel dives in headfirst in this arena and smartly enriches what we’d already seen. 2049 deftly picks up where its predecessor left off, this time channeling some of its larger themes through character for a more personal experience.

The discovery of what the movie is about is one of the most rewarding parts of it; another is its aesthetic. I really applaud Villeneuve and his team for respecting the look of Scott’s visually stunning–and revolutionarily so–film while clearly making it their own. The story takes place 30 years after the first movie, which entails 30 years of run-down future.

The designs are far more brutalist, and the colors very muted when not hit by the neon lights of the city, but it feels both new and lived in in a very respectable way. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is a master of this type of photography, and production designer Dennis Gassner effectively created a recognizable but wholly original version of the future. And while CGI is obviously used here, giant miniatures and models of the city make for supremely effective tangibility.

The cast, top-to-bottom, is phenomenal. Gosling downplays everything for most of the movie so that when he finally does express himself, it hits you like a ton of bricks. I had been worried, because of how large a shadow Harrison Ford’s Deckard casts on the project, that any time he wasn’t on screen, we’d be waiting for him to come back; thankfully this wasn’t the case, as Gosling’s Officer K is just as magnetic as Ford. Leto’s replicant maker Niander Wallace is suitably iconoclastic as he dreamily floats through his scenes, and I want to give special mention to Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks–both phenomenal.

And that really is the ultimate testament to Blade Runner 2049‘s success: I WISH I could talk about it using specifics without undermining the movie’s own drive to surprise its viewers early and often. It has so much going on and so many layers and discussions of what it means to be “real” or “human” and treatises on the validity and importance of memory, and all of this in a movie that still has a requisite amount of action and suspense and gorgeous if bleak spectacle. When the 163-minute experience began to wrap up, I thought to myself, “Oh man, I could easily keep watching more of this.” It’s a world with a lot to say, and a movie that says it in exactly the right way.

Blade Runner 2049 supersedes its predecessor in a number of ways, and is not only a brilliant sci-fi movie, but one of the best movies of the year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 replicant burritos

Images: Warner Bros/Sony

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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