Dennis Villeneuve, director of numerous critically-acclaimed films such as 2013's Prisoners, 2015's Sicario, and 2016's Arrival once again hits the proverbial ball out of the park with the highly-anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner in 2017's Blade Runner 2049.
Now, despite both the anticipation for the film and Villeneuve's impressive directorial track record, a certain degree of nervousness circulated among fans during the production process for Blade Runner 2049, and not necessarily without good reason.
Ridley Scott's original film is a classic among the science fiction genre, and is widely considered to have been influential in shaping the direction in which science fiction films have gone in ever since.  That being said, in recent years the direction in which Scott has taken one of his other classic film franchises - Alien, has garnered mixed reception from critics and fans alike, with many feeling as though the recent entries in the series - 2012's Prometheus and 2017's Alien Covenant, were not executed to their fullest potential.  As a result, fans of the original Blade Runner were worried that something similar might happen to this franchise, resulting in a lackluster sequel.
I think it's safe to say that the film was never in any real danger, though, as Scott did not direct 2049, and director Dennis Villeneuve has more than proven himself as being one of - if not the most - competent director working today.  The man is simply a cinematic genius, and it shows in his latest film, too.  Let's talk about how.
When looking at a Villeneuve film, one of the first things to stand out is always the beautifully crafted visuals and cinematography.  It was true in Sicario and Arrival, and it holds true now. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who collaborated with Villeneuve on both Prisoners and Sicario, builds an immersive and futuristic world that fits right in with the world of the 1982 film.  This is no small feat, either, as the original film built a unique and grungy world that I don't quite think would work as well today with modern audiences.
To circumvent this, much of 2049 takes place in beautiful, yet quieter settings free of the hustle and bustle of daily city life seen in the first film.  Future Los Angeles is still there, and the film spends plenty of time there, but the viewer isn't thrown in quite as forcefully as is done in the original Blade Runner, and I think that works very well.  The wider scope of locations allows for a more expansive visual and color palette, including plenty of blues, browns, and oranges - a popular color scheme in modern cinema.  As colors clash, so to do the ideas of past and present.
While second on this list, the character development in the film is certainly second to none.  All of the characters in the film are exceptional in their roles, and a few even stand out among the rest.  Ryan Gosling is great as the lead 'K', and has plenty of surprises up his sleeve.  I went into this movie having preconceived notions about who I thought Gosling's character was going to be and what his motivations were, and I was dead wrong; and I loved it.  Dave Bautista and Robin Wright are great in their roles too, however small they may be.  Both Sylvia Hoek's Luv and Jared Leto's Niander Wallace make for great antagonists, and their actions lead me to believe that there may be more installments to come from this franchise - something I would be happy to see.  And of course, Harrison Ford's reprisal of his role as Deckard is fantastic, and not at all overwhelming.  Ford fits into the movie right where he needs to be, and doesn't steal the show from the new characters.  It's fan service that actually serves a purpose.
The character that I really want to talk about, however, is Ana de Armas' Joi, who is easily the most intriguing character in the film, and the one that forces the audience to really ask questions and think about the intricacies surrounding them.  The audience learns in our first interaction with Joy that she is not a "real" human - she's a hologram, and the film sets her up in a way similar to how the original Blade Runner sets up replicants.  Both the viewer as well as characters in the film struggle with the question of whether or not Joi is a "real" person or not, and that - along with its implications, is by far the most thought-provoking question in the entire film.  The complexity surrounding her character makes Joi not only my favorite character in 2049, but also my favorite character of the year.
No film is complete without a great score, and the one given to us by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's is nothing short of magnificent.  With a combined resume that includes scores for films such as The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, Hidden Figures, and It, it's no surprise that these two were able to compose a score that really aides in immersing the viewer into the film.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, music can make or break a film, and the music here makes it.
Finally, it would be a shame to end this review without mentioning the fantastic screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green.  In an era when so many movies get bogged down by overly-complicated and confusing scripts, its refreshing to see one that actually gets so many things right.  It's smart and sophisticated, yet doesn't introduce so many things that it becomes
impossible to follow.  I look forward to a sequel that is written just as well.
At the beginning of this review I referred to Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner as a "science fiction masterpiece" - because it is.  That being said, however, I've never considered it to be a film that I would sit down and watch over and over again.  It's fantastic, but there's a lot going on, and aesthetically it's just not the type of film I would want to watch repeatedly.  Blade Runner 2049 is an entirely different story, however.  I would gladly immerse myself in the story, visuals, and sounds presented in this film time and time again, forcing myself to think about the questions it puts in front of me.  In fact I look forward to it.
In an era when classic franchises are being resurrected left and right (and to be fair, doing very well both critically and financially), it's still nice to see one that brings a little something more to the table.  Through wonderfully-written characters and a sophisticated script, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece that really gets the audience thinking about some of life's most important questions.
★★★★★★★★★☆   9/10
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