"Blade Runner 2049"

"Blade Runner" is a peculiar film. It doesn't necessarily have much of a thick, narratively-driven story as much as it has themes, characters, resonant-filled subtleties which cannot necessarily be summoned in a single viewing. It's all about atmosphere, but within that atmosphere is meaty substance. That's why it was greeted with indifference back in 1982 and only became a classic in the ensuing years. Hell, some people, many actually, are still not convinced of its legitimacy worthy of the movie time capsule. The main question the movie asks, about humanity and our worth, deserves the warranted, heated discussions it has attained over the last 30 years. It all revolves around if Harrison Ford's character Deckard, the blade runner of the title, is a droid or a human? Does it even matter? The latter is something its director Ridley Scott seemed to be hinting at, as droids, much like humans, wanted the same freedoms we take for granted: To feel, ache, rejoice, hurt, love etc.

And so, the mighty Scott has passed the torch for the followup to ever esteemable Denis Villeneuve, a filmmaker that has no doubt proven his big-studio worth these last 5 years with flawed but technically, and professionally, impressive work such as "Prisoners," "Sicario" and "Arrival." Films that have garnered immense fanbases and have catapulted the Quebecois director to the ranks of Hollywood directing heaven with the likes of Nolan, Spielberg, Scorsese, or at least now he has with "Blade Runner 2049" which feels like icing on the cake, further proof that he is the real deal that I've been touting about since his 2011 French Canadian masterpiece "Incendies" make the film festival rounds.

None of his American films have managed to capture the bloody, brutal brilliance of "Incendies," but, by golly, is this man on his way to that peak again, slowly learning the tricks of the trade to fully master his own auteur voice in a studio system lacking in, well, distinct and unique voices.

"Blade Runner 2049" is Villeneuve gaining confidence in his ability to let a narrative breathe and have the confidence of the audience member to follow him along a deeply steeped, tip-toeing and risky narrative. It's 153-minute length, not counting the 11-minute credits, will surely be an endurance test for many because, well, just like the 1982 predecessor, nothing really happens, but everything does as well. It's a film front-loaded with cinematographer Roger Deakins' beautifully lit frames, but beneath those frames lie secrets that will no doubt become more visible with repeat viewings, or at least that's what I hope because after a single viewing of "Blade Runner 2049" I can honestly say a lot of questions are still left unanswered.

The film, set thirty years after the original, has a quiet brooding lead character in Ryan Gosling's Officer K, who is a blade runner himself, seeking defacto droids that pose as humans. Just like Ford's Deckard, he's the best at what he does. Trouble comes in the form of an uncovered secret that could open a whole can of worms for the totalitarian government of the new world, which leads K on a quest to find Deckard, who's been missing for more than thirty years. It implicates K and a childhood memory that was implanted in his subconscious when he was created or did it actually happen?

That plot description is only a thin guide to a vast and ambitious effort from Villeneuve, who had a publicist read a note he wrote before the screening of the film began asking critics to not divulge crucial plot points of the film in their reviews. I will not do that. This imperfect, messy, but energetic film deserves to be seen without any knowledge of the plot. The less you know, the better.

Pacing issues notwithstanding, the main flaw I have with the film is in its final third. Here's the thing about "Blade Runner 2049" the more you discover its secrets, the less intriguing it becomes, for 2 hours and change you are completely surrounded in mystery as to what will be coming next. You do know it all leads to a meeting with Ford's Deckard, thank the trailer for that, but there's a vibe that Villeneuve and Deakins create that's damn near mystical. Villeneuve should have taken a cue from his predecessor and not given us any concrete answers. Nevertheless, the final few minutes are astounding.

We all figure this will be the movie that will have Roger Deakins win his first ever Oscar, right? After all, Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049" is a transportive visual feast for the eyes which has no less than a dozen, or so, of the best shots of the entire movie year. The legendary cinematographer and 13-time nominee shoots the hell out of this visionary sequel and will surely be a contender come Awards season [B+]