3 1/2 (out of 4)
For fans of sci-fi, or really genre fare of any kind, Blade Runner 2049 should be the film equivalent of ecstasy even if Ridley Scott’s original 1982 film hasn’t earned your adornment.
The staggering visual reunion of Denis Villeneuve’s solemnly sound directorial capacities and all time great, 13 time Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins coalesces into cinematic heaven purely for the eyes. But by reworking the near-future sci-fi noir elements of Philip K Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? in relatively sharp contrast to the original 35 years ago, 2049 manages to distinctly remove itself from the former film’s shadow, all by realizing everything that Blade Runner 2019 did not.
At a mammoth 164 minutes, the final outcome of this overdue sequel is an exhausting blow to the senses. It is virtually pornography for the part of the mind that relishes in the expertly cinematographic, just as calculating and intoxicating as Ana de Armas' holographic companion Joi is for Ryan Gosling’s K, an advanced replicant Blade Runner, programmed to willfully hunt and eliminate rogues of his own kind.
Harrison Ford's return as Deckard doesn’t make the film better exactly – his entrance an hour and 45 minutes in isn't a moment too soon – but he makes more of this performance than he’s done in revisiting Star Wars or Indiana Jones decades after the fact.
The only major flaw here is in Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer's eardrum-crushing score, which, while fairly minimalist for the best, can never let an expansive, breathtaking establishing shot speak for itself without droning stabs of low brass that make Inception’s infamous score – which has reshaped the art of trailers completely in our decade – look so very quaint. Something more electronic and futuristic would aid the film’s tone and atmosphere, but the film’s appropriately painstaking – almost robotic if you will – flawlessness aside makes this factor easy to ignore. We are in fact watching not just a sci-fi noir, but also a sci-fi epic – and Mr. Zimmer is keen not to let us forget it.
A thorny plot, engaging sentiment, surefire performances, superb sound design and thought-provoking themes all enhance a fairly good story that succeeds even apart from such mind-shattering beauty. The synthesis of the sublime and the sobering is a remarkable balancing act, and Blade Runner 2049 justifies every minute of its sprawling length in the even exchange of these two elements.
To keep it brief...