Blade Runner 2049 ★★★★½

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Director Ridley Scott’s 1982 feature 'Blade Runner' is the kind of epochal genre film whose stylistic influence is so enormous, it can be difficult to accurately assess the feature’s merits and flaws in isolation. 'Blade Runner' changed science fiction forever, in a way that even Scott’s 'Alien' didn’t quite manage in 1979. The latter film is a masterpiece, and H.R. Giger’s nightmarish creature designs were instantly seared into the cultural consciousness, but 'Alien' was essentially an old-fashioned monster movie in gritty New Hollywood clothing. 'Blade Runner' was something else, something ferociously fresh. It's thoughtful, enigmatic, poetic, radical. It borrows from the conventions of film noir, but then disappears down a dystopian rabbit hole of suffocating megacities, unrestrained corporatism, and manufactured people. Like 'Metropolis' or The 'Road Warrior', it only seems clichéd because it’s where those cinematic clichés were born. (Or ‘incepted,' to be precise.)

The historical heft of the original film undoubtedly weighed on the creative minds behind 'Blade Runner 2049', a sequel that unfolds 30 years later in the same grim, alternate future of bio-engineered replicants and off-world colonies. Those minds include French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve ('Prisoners', 'Sicario', 'Arrival') and writers Hampton Francher and Michael Green, the former a returning co-scripter from the original 'Blade Runner'. Scott himself also returns, this time as an executive producer. The filmmakers seemed to appreciate that a sequel is almost always less revolutionary than its forebear, and to that end they have focused on creating a work that retains the original film’s other laudable qualities. 'Blade Runner 2049' is as pensive and mysterious as its namesake, and also visually and aurally dazzling in a way that counter-balances its necessarily diminished novelty. It is, to be frank, the best that cinephiles could have hoped for in a 35-years-later 'Blade Runner' sequel.

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