Denis Villeneuve has succeeded in creating that rarest of films: a very late sequel that respects and improves upon the original. Blade Runner 2049 expands the canvas of the first film with new locations and characters, all of whom feel authentic and true to the tone and themes of 1982’s Blade Runner. I thought it was magnificent in terms of setting and imagery and it packed an unexpected emotional punch which was absent in the first movie. I wanted to see it twice before I wrote my review and I am confident in saying it is superior to the original film while remaining tonally and esthetically consistent. I loved it.
Foremost, I loved the story – complex without being hard to follow and never violating any continuity laid down by its predecessor. There were plot twists I could see coming but then the revelation would have more dimension than I was expecting. There were also genuine surprises in a couple of scenes. The cast is wonderful, with everyone well-suited to their roles (I particularly liked Sylvia Hoeks as Luv) and I was delighted to find Harrison Ford’s acting (especially in one scene) to be quite emotionally effective, while Ryan Gosling carries the movie very capably, so much so that I almost forgot Ford was in it until the scene where he is revealed. I felt genuine anticipation waiting for him to appear on screen at that moment, a good example of several times the film surprised me with its emotional charge.
The design of the film is, of course, gorgeous, especially as shot by Roger Deakins. The movie is absolutely beautiful, even in its ugliest locations. The movie clearly is consistent with the esthetic of the original, right down to corporate advertising for firms which no longer exist in the real world. The effect created is like a parallel universe future, as if the human race developed interstellar travel in the 1980s and by the early 21st century had largely abandoned planet earth. I got a giggle out of the hologram ballerina with the CCCP logo, as if to say that even the Soviet Union still exists in that future. It is definitely the same world as the original film, but clearly time has passed, most powerfully stated by the calamitous environmental situation which is even worse than when we last saw it thirty years ago.
The big plot point that everything revolves around, I thought was a bold idea that takes artificial life into a whole new realm of thinking. I don’t want to spoil it, though it is presented early on, but I was delighted by how daring the idea was and how well it payed off. It’s the kind of thing that made the movie matter as a logical progression from the first instead of just revisiting the setting with new and improved special effects. This is a sequel with a reason to exist, not just an excuse.
If I have any complaints about the movie, I would say it felt too long. It really feels like the two and a half hours that it is. It’s not boring, not at all, but it is slow and I have to confess there were a couple of scenes I felt might have been a bit extraneous while another important scene early in the third act worked but could have been stronger. That being said, the original film also has a very slow pace and so it is just one more way in which these movies share the same DNA.
I loved the ending. I rarely like the endings of most movies, but the moments leading up to the final scene and the last shot of the movie…I got a tear in my eye, which is another example of how unexpectedly emotional this movie is, especially compared to the one that came before. For that reason I would say that this is a superior sequel. It takes the themes and ideas and esthetic of the original and develops them into something beyond the reach of that first film. Best of all, it preserves the enigma of the original film in spite of unpacking and exploring it, but to say anything more on that point would be to spoil not only this film but also its predecessor.