Blade Runner 2049 Review: A Classic Gets a Worthy Sequel That Doesn’t Rely on Nostalgia

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Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner is one of those classics that sits on the border of completely untouchable and overflowing with potential for a sequel, with the right idea. Well, leave it to the director of Arrival to make that sequel and have it bursting with ideas. Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 asks a lot of its audience. We have to be open to a two hour and 45 minute sci-fi epic with very little action and characters that are purposefully cold to the touch. But what we get in return is a strong definition of what it means to be alive and some of the most stunning visuals of the modern age to go along with it.

The opening scene of the film contains spoilers that the trailers smartly chose not to give away, so plot details here will be scarce. All you need to know is that K (Ryan Gosling) is the new Blade Runner, hunting replicants 30 years after Deckard (Harrison Ford) went on the run at the end of the first film. We’re still set in a draped in shadow, neon-lit Los Angeles experiencing so much rain that on might think it’s the Great Flood come to wash away humanity once more. There’s also still a quasi-tyrannical corporation pulling more strings than are comfortable when it comes to replicant existence. There’s more to 2049’s story than rehashing the original, but revealing any more would deter the viewer experience. Plus, Blade Runner, regardless of which of the many cuts you may have seen, was always much more about mood. And that’s where this sequel succeeds in spades.

Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins makes the most of literally every frame (if this doesn’t win him an Oscar, nothing will). For a high-budget sequel, he lights the surroundings and shoots them in such a way that it’s legitimately difficult to tell when the film’s gorgeous sets end and the CGI starts. Blade Runner is still very much a neo-noir 35 years later, but where the original was more interested in the smog filled alleyways that led to noodle shops and nightclubs bathed in harsh lights, 2049 expands its version of Los Angeles, and the world at large, to fill in some of the blanks of the series’ mythos. I found myself missing the former a bit, but the entire crew has to be commended here for showing and expanding this dystopia in ways both logical and engaging. There’s no sight in the film you’ll want to look away from, the most pure staple of great sci-fi.

But the original, despite its fascinating legacy, has never been perfect. The script takes a few stabs at alleviating some of the cold detachment of its predecessor, finding the most success with the character of Joi (Ana de Armas), the most accessible character in either film. But you’ll still find yourself wondering throughout 2049 exactly why you should care about K, or even Deckard. The film makes its case, a bit at the cost of the original’s overall ambition, but this sequel makes more of an effort to emotionally root itself.

Whether you connect to it or not, there’s an undeniable immersive beauty to 2049 that never wavers throughout its extensive runtime. This is the rare film where the feast for the eyes actually makes up for the narrative shortcomings because said visuals create a specific mood that’s only been achieved once before in cinematic history. It’s what made Blade Runner a classic worthy of a follow up after 35 years, and it’s what makes 2049 a completely worthwhile experience all on its own right now. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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