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“Blade Runner 2049” lives up to expectations

“Blade Runner 2049” is the the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic “Blade Runner.” The story this time around is set 30 years later and revolves around a new “blade runner” detective named K (Ryan Gosling). After making an earth-shattering discovery, K must now uncover an even more shocking secret with the help of former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the lead from the first film.

I went into “Blade Runner 2049” with high expectations because the first is one of my all-time favorites and I was curious to see how director Denis Villeneuve would follow that up. Much to my surprise, this film blew me away.

Similar to its predecessor, “Blade Runner 2049” is a technical marvel. Villeneuve blends CGI and practical effects together to create a grimy looking dystopian world that’s easy to become lost in, proving once again that he’s one of the best directors working today. Moreover, the way this world has evolved over the last three decades is fascinating, especially for fans of the original, such as myself.

Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography adds to that authenticity, and I sincerely hope it leads to his first Oscar win. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s musical score is commendable because it features that atmospheric, synth heavy Vangelis sound while still complementing the filmmakers’ much bleaker vision of Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. Hearing that Villeneuve’s frequent collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson was no longer involved made me nervous, but I’m glad to be proven wrong.

Characters and performances are likewise bright spots for “Blade Runner 2049.” Gosling demonstrates why he’s a terrific leading man. His portrayal of K is so nuanced and well-realized that picturing anyone else in the role is rather difficult. Harrison Ford is also fantastic as older Rick Deckard, retaining many of the traits that made the character so memorable. Yet he feels more vulnerable than he did 30 years ago. In fact, another viewing could put this performance above Han Solo in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The supporting players which include Ana de Armas, Robin Wright and Jared Leto all deliver great performances. De Armas in particular stands out as the surprisingly complex female lead Joi, and even though I can’t discuss her character without delving into spoilers, I can’t wait to see more of this actress in the near future.

As amazing as the visuals are, the writing of “Blade Runner 2049” is remarkable. Hampton Fancher and Michael Green tell a story that functions well on its own as opposed to simply continuing the original. For that reason, anyone going into this new film without seeing the first can probably understand what’s happening, although I still recommend seeing the renowned predecessor.

“Blade Runner 2049” clocks in at 163 minutes and moves at a deliberately slow pace with not much action interspersed throughout. Many people may see that as a turn-off, but I felt that the film earned its hefty runtime with how it expands on the intricate themes of perception and humanity that made the original so iconic. The film leaves much of the intrigue from the first film untouched while also asking new questions that will encourage discussion for quite some time.

I can’t yet say that “Blade Runner 2049” is better than the original, but it’s still probably my favorite film of the year and one of the best sequels ever made. Denis Villeneuve crafts a well-acted, visually stunning blockbuster that respects its predecessor, but can still stand on its own. The more I think about it, the more I want to see it again.

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