When a sequel to “Blade Runner” was announced, I was extremely skeptical. A perfectly self-contained film like this did not warrant a sequel, especially when older properties have tended to fail when applied with our modern sensibilities. A cautiously optimistic glimmer of hope arose when Denis Villeneuve, the director of “Prisoners,” “Sicario” and “Arrival” was helmed to direct.
Thankfully, “Blade Runner 2049” works as well as a standalone as it does a sequel. No viewings of Ridley Scott’s classic in its many different cuts are required to appreciate “2049,” and the impacts you’d get from watching the original are tastefully slim, anyways.
Set 30 years after the events of “Blade Runner,” “2049” follows a new android hunter or “blade runner,” Ryan Gosling’s K, as he searches Los Angeles to confirm a revolutionary discovery. As K searches for this miracle — the revelation of which could have potentially tumultuous societal repercussions — he begins to question his very humanity.
“2049,” like many of Villeneuve’s films, is a very literal, emotionally charged piece. As such, there isn’t as much abstract philosophizing as there was in Scott’s original. “2049” asks less “what is real” than “who and what am I.” This emotional drive, carried excellently by Gosling’s performance, had me much more invested than in Scott’s original, which was at times loyal to a fault to its often emotionless, hard-boiled noir narrative.
Apart from its existential questions, the greatest appeal of the original “Blade Runner” was likely its visuals. The neon-soaked grime of 2019 Los Angeles looks incredible to this day, and “2049” expands beyond its borders into the American outlands. The open air and beautifully haunting vistas offer welcome reprieves from the hellhole post-apocalyptic city, and every single frame inside of the womb-like Wallace Corp. headquarters had me dropping my jaw in awe. The production designers and cinematographer Roger Deakins truly outdid themselves.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s music. You’ve got to see this movie in a theater with the most acoustically immersive experience possible, because Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch have created one of my favorite scores ever. Paired with the visuals and the characters on-screen, the majestic roars of Zimmer and Wallfisch’s score deeply rattled me, often letting tears slip without really knowing why.
It’s that powerful.
“2049” is a two-hour, 43-minute-long monster. Harrison Ford’s incorporation, though clever and compelling, kind of felt like it artificially extended the total run time. There were also a few scenes involving an underground band of androids, known as “replicants,” that felt irrelevant and slightly over-explained the film’s final twist. “Blade Runner” benefited so much from its vague introspections, and I think that the final reveal of “2049” would have had more impact had it been left a little more in the dark.
While I don’t think the film is totally justified in its length, I can’t say that there was a single second that I didn’t enjoy watching “Blade Runner 2049.” The film was so wonderfully resonant, so sensually striking, that I could have continued watching it forever.
This is a masterpiece on every single level:
Hector Valverde reviews films for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hpvalverde.