Making a sequel to one of the most iconic movies in history is a ballsy move—but with Blade Runner 2049, the ambition and talent of director Denis Villeneuve pay off big time. This isn’t some mediocre follow-up. It’s a film that stays reverent to its predecessor while reaching for dazzling new heights.
2049 takes place 30 years after the events of original film. An LAPD Blade Runner called K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with hunting down a replicant living on a desiccated California protein farm. Forensics discover a box buried deep beneath a tree on the farm, and its contents send K on a quest for answers he didn’t know he needed.
Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original Blade Runner with David Peoples, co-wrote 2049 with Michael Green, so what we get story-wise feels like an authentic continuation of the original film and not some fanboy derivative. Villeneuve builds off of that foundation and again shows his consummate grasp of the science-fiction genre. Arrival was one of the most imaginative and satisfying big-budget sci-fi movies in years, and Blade Runner 2049 strengthens his legacy.
One of the things that made the original Blade Runner so compelling was its masterful blending of sci-fi themes and noir elements, and Villeneuve treats us to the same. Had this been a movie that rested solely on science fiction or its visuals—which are in fact stunning—and paid no mind to its story, 2049 could have gone the lackluster way of other sci-fi sequels. But there’s no skimping on the plot. Strip away all the high-tech gadgetry and badass fighting replicants and you’d still have a standout gumshoe neo-noir that hurtles us forward and keeps us second-guessing throughout.
That said, 2049’s take on futurism provides some fascinating (and perhaps horrifying) extrapolations of our current technologies. Obviously the timeline is way off, but it’s not too hard to imagine certain takes on artificial intelligence, smart devices, and personalized ads in the near future, and that lends itself to an immersive feeling.
The gorgeous visuals and sound drop us further in. Take the genre out of the equation: Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most beautifully shot movies ever made. Whether in the congested streets of future Los Angeles or a bleak expanse of desert, cinematographer Roger Deakins finds a way to make every single shot captivating. Hans Zimmer (big surprise) and Benjamin Wallfisch string it all together with a score that pulls from the original and finds new ways to put us on edge. Altogether this is a film that must be seen in a theater to be fully appreciated.
Loyal fans will always freak out when a sequel pops up for a beloved film, but the original Blade Runner universe was so cool and far-reaching that it’s fantastic to see it explored further. And with Blade Runner 2049, we get to see what happens when a sequel is done right. If only they were all this good.
Blade Runner 2049
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Theater: Opens Friday, area theaters