Fresh off his incredible Arrival, a sci-fi film that is thought-provoking and emotional, French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve returns with one of the most-anticipated features of the year. Blade Runner 2049 is the follow-up to the 1982 Ridley Scott project, which itself has become a classic, growing in popularity and achieving cult status after its initial failed release. This extrapolation of the Philip K. Dick short story picks up 30 years after the events of the original film and itself is 35-years in the making. Usually sequels fall short of its predecessor, especially when the first one is considered a classic. But Villeneuve, with help from an outstanding cast (Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista and Harrison Ford), strong writers (Hampton Fancher, Michael Green), a stunning cinematographer (Roger Deakins), and talented composers (Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch), has created a masterpiece. This is the rare sequel which surpasses the original and could very well be 2017’s best.

Villeneuve shifts gears a little with a prologue that sets this apart from the original (although the prologue, for those who aren’t hardcore Blade Runner fans, is actually inspired from a scene in the original but eventually cut). With it, viewers realize 2049 involves more action, and at the same time audiences learn plenty about its protagonist, LAPD blade runner Agent K (Gosling). From that scene, a mysterious box buried beneath the premises reveals a truth which could unravel society, and K is tasked with finding all information regarding this truth and destroy it. In a time where humans and replicants are more difficult to identify, this truth is revelatory but dangerous. K is left disturbed by the situation and it leads him on a search for a long-missing former blade runner, Rick Deckard (Ford).

When it was announced there would be a Blade Runner sequel I was originally apprehensive. I saw it as simply another cash-grab and further proof that Hollywood was out of original ideas. But when Villeneuve came on as director I changed my mind. The director is an auteur with an immense imagination which has given life to all of his projects. That talent is proudly on display in 2049, and it is clear he’s one of the best directors working today.

Nearly every aspect of the production is handled impeccably. First, 2049 looks amazing – Roger Deakins, who’s been cruelly overlooked by the Academy, captured some of the most beautiful shots in cinema. Despite the futuristic setting, Deakins grounded this world in reality, capitalizing on natural elements to produce a dystopian world that is beautiful in its global disfigurement. Wallfisch, who’s already had a big year scoring the blockbuster horror film IT, collaborated with the amazing Hans Zimmer to create a moody score that aligns perfectly with the original Vangelis Blade Runner score. And the acting across the board is sublime – Gosling plays K with depth and emotion, yet displays a robotic coldness which provides balance to the replicant "skin job." Ford is steady (likely his best role in years) and it’s always a welcome sight to see him making movies again. Even Leto is strong, bringing a cold creepy vibe to his god-complex-having businessman/replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace.

The breakout performance belongs to de Armas, who plays K’s love interest, Joi. Her character further blurs the lines separating human and machine, as she makes her relationship with K genuine and earnest (she also builds depth within the film’s main storyline).

With everything clicking, Blade Runner 2049 is that perfect film which comes along maybe once every 5-10 years. Possibly the only hang-up is its running time, which is a whopping 164-minutes. But the silver lining is you’ll get your money’s worth in content. Plus, by the time the final credits began I felt I could watch three more hours.

By the time awards season comes around Blade Runner 2049 will likely be celebrated by a majority of critics, and could enjoy the same success bestowed upon Mad Max: Fury Road. Villeneuve’s latest is emotional and spiritual, and it features creators and actors at the top of their games. This is a true classic and a must-see, especially for fans of the original who’ve clamored for a continuation of the Blade Runner story.

5 stars out of 5

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