Blade Runner 2049 ★★★

For once, Hollywood had good reason to go on full spoiler lockdown prior to the release of a highly anticipated franchise blockbuster. Don’t worry, there won’t be any reveals here, but suffice it to say that “Blade Runner 2049” tells a brilliant story. It’s the kind of provocative and soulful sci-fi yarn that Philip K. Dick could be proud of, one that more thoroughly excavates the essence of what it means to be alive than almost any other Hollywood film in recent memory (real or implanted). Despite the fact that it’s the first Denis Villeneuve film to take place in the future, it’s also the first to look inward, rather than backward or forward. As a result, it’s the first Denis Villeneuve movie that digs deep enough to wrap its hands around the roots of his existential concerns.

And yet, for all of those virtues, “Blade Runner 2049” represents another first for the Quebecois auteur: It’s the first Denis Villeneuve film to be boring. Turgid where the rest of his work is exhaustingly tense, this epic mega-sequel never shows any signs of life (natural or engineered). Each scene is a gilded vault of dead air, ideas sometimes crystallizing from the mist as the characters try not to be suffocated by the set design. Roger Deakins is having the time of his life, but the sterile, hyper-saturated nature of his work seldom feels right for this movie world, the atmosphere of which isn’t nearly as thick or twinkling as it was in the original (Villeneuve’s follow-up looks more like a steampunk “Inception” than anything else).

There are a million directors who can tell brilliant stories in boring ways, but we count on Villeneuve to do the opposite. “Blade Runner 2049” is as loud and severe as anything he (or anyone else) has ever made, but it feels like it was made by a replicant. More human than human? Not even close.