‘Blade Runner 2049’ Review: Sci-fi sequel is a masterpiece that questions the constitution of humanity

What does it mean to be human? Is it the capacity to feel emotions? To feel sadness? Happiness? Fear? Is it the ability to live with a purpose? To die? To remember your past?

If so, then can replicants be the next evolution of mankind?

These are all questions the landmark 1982 Blade Runner wisely posed, but refused to answer in simple measures. This year’s follow up, Denis Villeneuve’s visual masterpiece Blade Runner 2049, brings all of these questions back to the forefront, only to magnify the stakes, in an event that multiple characters either say will “break the world,” or be a “miracle.”

Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with getting to the bottom of this event, slowly uncovering the hidden truths from the world. Gosling, in full Drive-mode, stoic and commanding for the entire run time, carries this complex, intellectual film with ease. With a performance that starts as closed-off from portraying emotions (a battle-hardened blade runner), he, over the course the film, sells his character’s quiet, but moving arc about a man placed in a burgeoning war between man and its closest competitor: the replicants.

In fact, all of the actors bring their A-game, with Ana de Armas (War Dogs) and Carla Juri (Wetlands) making the most of their relatively small screen-time. However, outside of Gosling, it really is Harrison Ford — reprising his role of Deckard — who steals the show. Where Ford’s performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was pure fan service, his role in BR2049 is much more demanding, much more emotional. In every scene Ford inhabits, the camera and the other actors are as glued to him as the audience is, watching this withering, soul-crushed character coping with memories lost in time. Whether it’ll gain awards traction or not is a different debate, but seeing Ford this committed to bearing his heart and mind is stunning.

What else is stunning is the incredible craft work on display. The production design, the score, the sound and the editing, despite its nearly three hour run time, are consistently spectacular. Yet, it is Roger Deakins and his mastery of light and composition that dominate the film. It’s arguably his most showy cinematography ever, yet it’s all in service of the film’s controlled atmospherics. With straight line designs, piercing rays of light through the darkest of locations, or an extended take involving a crashing vehicle, BR2049 is inarguably the showcase for all of Deakins’ exquisite powers behind the camera. After 13 Oscar nominations and no wins, it appears it’s finally his time.

Regardless of awards though, Blade Runner 2049’s insistence on posing the biggest of big existential questions, and powerfully refusing to offer simple answers, makes this a modern science fiction masterpiece. Denis Villeneuve, much like Christopher Nolan, takes his spot alongside the pantheon of great cinematic artists who push big budget filmmaking to another level — finally making blockbusters “more human than human.”

Grade: 9.6/10

 

Featured image via Warner Bros./Columbia/Sony.

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