As I settled in to watch Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner: 2049 in a thundering imax theatre, I truly did not know what to expect. I'd successfully avoided spoilers up until that point, done a scant bit of reading hither and thither on a surface level, and obviously been privy to the mind boggling, overwhelmingly positive buzz that's been flowing forth since the first critics were screened. 'Masterpiece', 'Movie even of the century' and 'instant classic' were some of the lofty adulations that were being hurled around right out of the gate, and it's not often a sequel to such a long worshipped, culturally influential bombshell of a science fiction film has been welcomed so eagerly and almost unanimously praised. There's been a gulf of time between Ridley Scott's 1982 neon fever dream, which is indeed a masterpiece and one of my favourite films of all time, and the shoes to fill have never, ever been bigger. So, does it live up to the original? Is it better? Worse? Pandering fan service or bold pioneer trek into new galaxies of thematic and tonal exploration? The answers to those questions are somewhat more complicated than yes, no or similar succinct absolutes. I can say, however, that Villeneuve's near three hour machine-dream is one of the most beautiful, ambitious, thoughtful, well wrought films I've ever seen, a staggering achievement in all arenas and indeed a piece of cinema they'll be talking about for years to come. It's a masterpiece on its own terms, blending elements of the original which we all loved, but bravely surging forward into it's own brand new chapter of this world, a little bleaker and more austere than the poetic lullabies of Scott's L.A., yet no less wondrous or sumptuous a creation. This is a world where quite a bit of time has passed since the initial story, and the environment these characters dwell in has shifted along with it. Los Angeles is wearier, emptier and less of a gong show than we remember, yet the buzzing life that we recall catching fleeting glimpses of between monolithic, impossibly gigantic skyscrapers is still there, that endless nocturnal hum has thrived through into a new age. So too have replicants, now far more advanced, under the label and stewardship of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his mega corporation. Ryan Gosling plays a young blade Runner, a profession, it seems, that has not run out of supply in demand. Under the very stern watch of LAPD Captain Joshi (Robin Wright, terrific) he navigates a meticulously paced detective story that, yes, eventually leads him to missing former Blade Runner Rick Deckerd, played by Harrison Ford in one staggeringly well pitched performance. That's all I'll really be specific about in terms of plot, because it's a gorgeously wrapped present that should be opened corner by corner, inch by inch until the viewer has actively and emotionally seen the big picture, a thoughtful process that challenges the audience and should be the standard not just for science fiction, but for big budget films in general. While Blade Runner 1982 was a visual and musical feast for the senses and still maintains that edge over it's sequel, 2049 has a cerebral and multifaceted patchwork quilt of themes, questions and notions that play across the screen like a ballet of auroral, magnificent wonders, layered, ponderous cinema with an emotional weight and resonance that took me right off guard, a quality that although present in 1982, wasn't quite as developed as what we get here. Hans Zimmer's score is every bit the thundering piece you'd expect and is brilliant, a slightly industrialized departure from the lyrical, ethereal tones of Vangelis, but equally as captivating. I could go on, but I'll let you see the thing for yourself and paint your own picture. I'll say this: Blade Runner 1982 is the rainbow coloured light shone through a prism, abstract, illusory and trancelike. 2049 is the prism itself, the source of the light and the place where it's understood from a more conscious, waking-life perspective, and that's the closest I can get to explaining just how different these films are from each other. One is a dream poem, the other is a deep methodical meditation, but both are vital halves of the mythology. However you look at it, Villeneuve's 2049 is astounding, achingly beautiful work on every level, not to mention the work of everyone's favourite unsung maestro, cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is an important film, as it may just hasten the exodus of brainless big budget fluff and help Hollywood enter a golden age of well crafted, intelligent blockbuster films once again. One can dream.
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