It’s been 35 years since the original Blade Runner, a cult classic directed by Ridley Scott that inspired science fiction as we know it today. Every cinephile knows and loves the film, and therefore, it is not surprising that everyone is doubtful about the decision to give it a sequel. However, taking into account Denis Villeneuve’s previous movies, from Prisoners to Arrival, there was no doubt Blade Runner 2049 would at least be interesting. Now that it’s been released, let’s see what it has to offer.
In the year 2049, 30 years after the events of the first film, a young Blade Runner, K (Ryan Gosling), will be in a quest to uncover long-buried secrets, a quest that will make him track down Deckard himself (Harrison Ford). Note: this short explanation was very deliberately vague, as I believe discovering the themes of the movie is probably one of the most important aspects of it, and I don’t want to spoil that, of course!
I guess the first thing to discuss in this review should be how this new film works as a sequel. Being released 35 years after the original (a film I rewatched a couple of days prior to watching the sequel), an extremely dissonant picture would not be surprising at all. However, it is a great pleasure to be able to say that 2049 blends beautifully with its predecessor. Villeneuve has found a way to take the original film and explore its universe in a deep and compelling way, without it feeling cheesy at all. The concepts introduced by Scott are reexplored, but also greatly expanded to bring new stuff to the table. Nothing feels out of place, it even seems to have been written together with the original at times. Both movies work as separate pieces correctly, but together they create a whole, something that I would have labeled impossible before watching this sequel.
Can 2049 be watched without knowing a thing about Blade Runner? Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, you can understand the storyline with no issues, as everything you need to know in order to follow the events is shown throughout the film. However, there’s a lot, a huge lot, that will be enjoyed only by those who remember the original movie. Several themes are reexplored somehow vaguely, which newcomers to the universe will not completely understand. There are lots of characters returning, too, as well as many elements of Blade Runner in the form of a minor element or easter egg, such as origami figures. Therefore, I’d strongly encourage revisiting the original material before stepping in, but those who find it not to be accessible enough should not worry either.
Villeneuve directs the show brilliantly, with great shots that are part of the narrative in order to engage the audience. It sometimes feels slightly too slow, and as a consequence, the almost three hours of runtime may seem to be way too long for some. However, I do think this is a deliberate decision taken in order to slow-cook the story, and it does work to some extent. Probably Production Design is the most spectacular aspect of the film, which seems to have been done with every single detail taken into consideration. The original film already was phenomenal in this regard, but the director’s team has taken it to a whole new level.
Cinematography is also a very strong feature, with an amusing use of light and colour that feels extremely varied but never forced. Many locations are pictured, and they all feature different tones, but they somehow don’t feel artificial. For instance, there’s a place in which everything shown on-screen has a vivid orange hue, but as it happened in Mad Max: Fury Road, it feels part of the atmosphere and not something artificial done with the trickery of film-making. It is truly remarkable. This, together with expertly made visual effects, results in a visually stunning picture, one of the most remarkable efforts ever done in that regard.
Casting choices are all brilliant, with magnificent performances from every single actor. Ryan Gosling is incredible as K, the protagonist, and is the highlight of the film. He always delivers great performances, but when directed properly, he simply shines. His performance style reminded me of the movies he did with Nicolas Winding Refn, which was pretty awesome. Harrison Ford gave the best performance of his entire career, and taking into account how huge his filmography is, that’s quite something. He portrays a very changed Deckard, one that has a very specific background, and he is able to convey those subtleties beautifully. His character isn’t black nor white, but every single kind of gray, and his performance clearly depicted that. K has a virtual companion portrayed by Ana De Armas, a Spanish actress that I barely knew but wasn’t very keen on, and I must say that she did a great job. Her character was very compelling, definitely. Finally, Jared Leto, after some very questionable performances, has found a film in which he can shine as he deserves. His character is incredibly interesting, a great addition to the Blade Runner universe, and he is up to the task without a doubt. Simply put, he gave a phenomenal performance.
Other than that, I’d like to take a moment to highlight the fantastic soundtrack Hans Zimmer provided to 2049, as it was both an extension of Blade Runner’s music, but also its own futuristic thing. I’m listening to it all the time, and it’s mesmerizing.
Blade Runner 2049 is one of those rare movies that work brilliantly both as its own thing and as a part of a bigger universe. It’s one of those sequels that feels essential to the original, yet it has been done 35 years later. It develops and expands the themes explored in the first film in a meditative and touching way. It boasts a visual spectacle unlike any other in recent blockbusters. It achieves a sense of depth unheard of in science fiction movies. Blade Runner 2049 will do for the 21st century what Blade Runner did for the 20th. 9/10