Blade Runner: 2049 (2017) (R)

I make it no secret that I was not a fan of the original "Blade Runner" film. I have many grievances with it; but I won't waste time and spell them out here. Needless to say, I consider it nothing sacred in cinematic canon that demands its protection; and in an age of film where sequels and remakes keep disappointing, I was not anxious to see how the source material was treated.

All that being said, "Blade Runner: 2049" is an incredibly different movie than its predecessor in tone alone and I would say, for my taste, remarkably more successful. In its barest sense, it is a crime movie much like the original film was. The plot is very meticulous and structured fairly simply to the critical eye. One event leads to the next which leads to the next. The script doesn't try anything fancy simply because the film is a "science fiction" film.

At the movie's opening, K (Ryan Gosling) is announced as a blade runner. His job is to hunt down and "retire" old versions of the Nexus model replicants, bio-engineered drone like workers. Due to a malfunction of software, the previous versions aren't quite as obedient and must be eliminated.

One such mission leads to a few clues that K's superior, referred to for most of the movie as "Madam" (Robin Wright), feels are vitally important for preserving the nature of the status quo. She commands him to follow every lead and in doing so, naturally, the movie begins to unwind.

Like any dystopic science fiction, "Blade Runner: 2049" presents a series of events, impossible for our present yet possible for our future; but it is never patronizing or preachy. The movie's strength lies in the subtleties of its storytelling and its patience. This is a surprisingly long movie for a modern "blockbuster" and its pacing is always calculated. Although almost three hours long, the film never drags and every scene feels vital to the plot.
To recap the movie would be to not do it justice and to itemize the acting feels boring. The real star of the film is its look and Roger Deakins once again is victorious. The movie is beautiful to look at and burns slowly, all thanks to its lusciously bleak look of the future. What the original film attempted to do with its kitschy noir feeling, "Blade Runner: 2049" succeeds massively by stripping noir down to its to its baseline overwhelming depression.

Outlined as such, it seems hard to "enjoy" a movie like "Blade Runner: 2049" and I'm not sure I would use the word "enjoyable". For this, it defies the blockbuster genre. The movie is gorgeous but emotionally aloof, it's action without voyeurism, and it's important to itself without apology. In all this, the story and movie itself are still compelling and I think it's one of the reasons that makes Denis Villeneuve such an unconventionally great story teller. The same frustration that I experienced with "Blade Runner: 2049" is the same felt in "Sicario" and even "Prisoners". This time, it was even more tangible.

By the end of the movie, the slow, aching beauty of it all builds into a sensational crescendo that feels akin to the breathless moments in "Incendies" or the suspense of "Arrival". I felt pinned to my seat and unable to tear my eyes away.

Most surprising, however, is how the movie seems to resist cliche. In the background there are hints of commentary on humanity, servitude, and emotion; but it doesn't play out how I expected and I think this is, in part, due to its running time and the care it takes with the slower moments. Not only does it narrative seem impossible to predict; but so does the method of its storytelling.

I feel like it would be too easy to see this movie as somehow extravagantly biblical in its tones, due to its ideas of creation; but I think it's imperative to reject this idea. "Blade Runner: 2049" manages to succeed at being lost within its cohorts. This isolation of tone and style give the impressive impression to me that "Blade Runner: 2049" is somehow the very first true science fiction movie ever made. Of course, this isn't the case; but it does say something of its tonal impact.

The movie isn't made for mass consumption and is far less cheesy than the original; but this isn't a bad thing. "Blade Runner: 2049" deserves to be seen on the big screen for visuals alone; but ultimately the movie succeeds because it's the combination of a group of artists at the top of their game.

Score: ★★★★

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