Describe, in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about Blade Runner.
Serious. Stylish. Sprawling. Personal. Beautiful. Gritty. Transformative. Timeless. Influential. Provocative. Prophetic. Inevitable. Inimitable.
Blade Runner‘s iconic Voight-Kampff test, originally lifted from Philip K. Dick’s source material in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, doesn’t appear in Blade Runner 2049. Master director Denis Villeneuve’s new Blade Runner sequel takes place decades after the original, and over those years a lot has changed in Ridley Scott’s hard-boiled world of poverty, extinction, and androids.
Likewise, plenty has changed in the real world since the 1982 release of the original Blade Runner. With 2049, a new constant has emerged: Blade Runner remains at the peak of cinematic sci-fi.
To say much of Blade Runner 2049‘s plot would verge on spoilers, but there’s plenty of backstory to discuss. In the 30 years since the original took place, replicants–androids who are nearly indistinguishable from humans–have undergone a resurgence thanks to advancements in their technology. After a major event known as “the blackout,” during which all technology (hard drives, the cloud, any data stored anywhere) was wiped clean, replicant maker Tyrell Corp. was bought out by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Wallace created a new line of replicants–the Nexus 9–that is allegedly unable to disobey, and can be easily identified by ultraviolet markings on their eyeballs (rendering the Voight-Kampff obsolete).
Replicants are no more readily accepted in society in 2049 than they were in 2019, though, and Blade Runners like Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in the original film, and Ryan Gosling’s character “K” in this one, do the dirty work of “retiring” those who step out of line.
2049 perfectly recreates and expands on the original’s dystopian-noir tone and aesthetic. This cyberpunk future Los Angeles is not a place you’d want to live, but it’s gorgeous to visit, thanks to expansive practical sets and the unmatched work of iconic cinematographer Roger Deakins. The movie ventures outward from LA, too, from the garbage-strewn wastelands of greater California to abandoned, irradiated Las Vegas.
Carrying much of the weight of decades of legacy and anticipation is Ryan Gosling. The actor is becoming increasingly known for roles in which he says a lot with a little, and his character here is far more Drive than La La Land or The Notebook. Much of the movie’s first half follows K as he investigates a mystery he unearths while on the job, a slow burn that mirrors Deckard’s search for the renegade replicants in the original. Where Deckard was cocky and jaded, K is quiet and determined; but Gosling carries this movie just as expertly as Ford did the original.
He doesn’t do it alone, though. Leto’s Wallace appears in just a couple of scenes, but he adeptly portrays the sociopathic, god complex-driven tech CEO of the future, as we can’t help but envision that archetype from here in 2017. Ford’s entrance comes late in the film, after which point it becomes a very different movie, the long, slow burn replaced with a flurry of meetings and reveals that hurtle toward an emotional, tense resolution.
Blade Runner 2049‘s female stars carry just as much weight. Robin Wright steals scenes as K’s stone cold commander in the police force. Sylvia Hoeks is Wallace’s sidekick Luv, an intimidating and striking force of nature whenever she’s on the screen. Ana de Armas’ character, a companion to K, propels some of the movie’s most thought-provoking themes, from what constitutes “human” (a conversation from the original that 2049 adds to and builds on) to how technology isolates us (a uniquely modern debate).
Unlike pretty much any other contemporary big-budget blockbuster, 2049‘s climactic action set piece involves just three characters in a deadly tussle with hugely personal stakes–no spaceship armadas or collapsing CG skyscrapers in sight. Like the rest of the film, Blade Runner 2049‘s scant action scenes are driven by atmosphere and story, rather than spectacle. The white-knuckled tension Villeneuve so expertly captured in earlier movies, like Arrival and Sicario, is present here as well, making 2049 a perfect tonal continuation of the original.
At the same time, 2049 adds much to the foundation on which it was built. The story, penned by Michael Green and original Blade Runner co-writer Hampton Fancher, uses the events of the first film as a jumping-off point in a future that’s progressed logically in the 30-year-gap, with complex events, history, and cultural shifts having occurred off-screen in the meantime. Some viewers may find it overlong at nearly three full hours, but it’s so engrossing that many won’t want it to end.
Pounding drums underscore an evocative, synth-heavy score, by composers Jóhann Jóhannsson, Benjamin Wallfisch, and Hans Zimmer, that references the original’s iconic soundtrack while forming its own, modern identity. Visually, 2049 is to the original what 2017 is to 1982; gone are the old CRT displays and newspapers of the past, replaced by holograms that live in your apartment or dance through the streets, 10 stories tall, to sell you liquor or other vices. There are some truly spectacular special effects on display here, the blend of practical and CG so believable that 2049 will likely be viewed as a benchmark for years to come.
The original Blade Runner is one of those rare sci-fi films that comes along once in a generation, and there are certainly fans who could never be satisfied by any follow-up, no matter how respectful of the original, nuanced in its advancements, or intelligently crafted it may be. It’s natural to be wary when Hollywood sets its sights on yet another classic, given how many of its reboots, reprisals, and re-imaginings come stillborn into the world as limp, lifeless cash-grabs.
But whether it was needed or not, Blade Runner 2049 is as close to a perfect sequel as has ever existed, a phenomenal return to the world created by Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott, the masterpiece result of a thousand expert minds making every right call as they worked toward a singular goal over the course of many years: simply to do this gargantuan thing justice. Needless to say, they succeeded–and then some.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Builds on the original while forging own identity|
|Gorgeous cinematography and effects|
|Complex performances from main actors|
|Mixes themes of original with problems of today|