When I walked into the theater to see Blade Runner 2049 on Monday, I had no idea what to expect. What was the movie actually about? Why is there a sequel to a movie that bombed at the box office and was later deemed a misinterpreted cult classic? As somebody who finds the original 1982 Blade Runner to be highly overrated, I write this review surprised by two things: first, that a sequel to a movie, viewed by many as a misinterpreted, neo-noir sci-fi classic, would be made 35 years later; secondly, (and more surprisingly) that this sequel, Blade Runner 2049, is not only leaps and bounds better than the original, but is also one of the best movies I’ve seen in recent years. Thanks to the movie’s mysterious story, memorable characters, gorgeous visuals, and unparalleled direction from Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 is an instant sci-fi classic and one which will be talked about for years to come.
Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years.
I will not delve into the story of Blade Runner 2049 because anything outside the above-mentioned synopsis will spoil something huge from the movie. What I will tell you, however, is that it has surprises, twists and turns; but that’s expected with a movie like this, which has been shrouded in secrecy ever since production started. After the movie’s opening scene, I was hooked and ready to see where 2049’s story was going to take me, which wound up going to places I did not expect. 2049 could have gone wrong for its story alone. But luckily, the movie never strays from the path in telling its mysterious story, which is elevated by a number of the movie’s noteworthy characters. This is where skilled director Villeneuve’s strongest asset as a director is utilized: giving audiences characters to be invested in. As the movie’s mysteries unfold and things are set in motion, Villeneuve’s profoundly human look at both people and replicants (the bioengineered androids that look and act like humans) never loses its focus when the story gets emotional.
Leading the cast of Blade Runner 2049 is Ryan Gosling, who plays the new blade runner, Officer K, who sets up the movie’s cat and mouse game. In his first leading role in a blockbuster, Gosling is near-perfect as we watch his character go through a series of trials that question his being. It’s quite something to see the complete 180 Gosling has done in less than a year. Last year, we saw him try to save jazz. This year, he’s taking out replicants with bullets without batting an eye. Of course, Harrison Ford is back and just as good as ever as Rick Deckard, the original blade runner (though not Oscar-good like all these recent clickbait articles suggest). In supporting roles, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, and Robin Wright are terrific in smaller roles that are more than just fillers for the sake screen time; they are necessary for a story like 2049’s, where every character actually matters. But the most surprising performances (and among the best next to Gosling) are a trio of young, female actresses, including Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, and Mackenzie Davis. Armas plays a character in contact with Officer K, Hoeks plays a replicant who works for the Wallace Corp (the company owned by Leto’s character) and Davis plays a character that’s more than just a pretty face. All three of these women are worth keeping an eye on, and are sure to appear in other big Hollywood projects in the coming years.
If you couldn’t tell from the previews, Blade Runner 2049 is lavishly gorgeous. Not only is it lavishly gorgeous, it is also one of the most beautiful movies I have ever laid eyes on. Begging to be seen in large formats at theaters like IMAX, 2049 is filled with eye candy for lovers of the sci-fi genre. From the barren dystopia that is the city of Los Angeles to the outer reaches of barren wastelands, there is so much to gaze upon that you’re likely to miss a few details the first time you see it. I can only imagine the number of hours spent on the visual effects of this movie, which will pay off at the Oscars next year when it wins the golden statue in that category. Coupled with the gorgeous visual effects is the work by acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, who might finally nab an Oscar for Best Cinematography for 2049 after being nominated 13 previous times. Over the years, Deakins’ work has spoken for itself; but never has it been put on such a large scale like 2049. Whether it’s an action scene, a wide shot of Los Angeles, or a closeup on a central character, every scene feels elaborately shot with purpose to make the experience all the more enriching. Other things worth mentioning are the movie’s production design and score (from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch), which pay homage to the original, yet both stand on their own in their respective manners.
Anybody expecting Blade Runner 2049 to be an epic action movie will be left disappointed. Sure, there are set pieces that feature great action on a big scale, but the action takes a backseat to the exceptional characters, which never leave center stage and are further developed as the movie progresses. 2049 is a long movie; at 164 minutes, the story plays out like a slow burn, just like the original Blade Runner. But unlike the original, the methodical telling of Blade Runner 2049’s story is necessary as the mystery unfolds slowly, whereas the original did not have much meaning from a story standpoint and felt like a drag at just two hours.
Every aspect of Blade Runner 2049 makes for what is arguably the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. And those who love the original Blade Runner will certainly love 2049, and anyone who considers themselves a movie buff is sure to enjoy 2049. Sci-fi movies with this much detail and appreciation to its story, characters, and visual effects don’t come around that often. Not only that, but Villeneuve has done the impossible: he’s made a remarkably masterful sequel to a predecessor that simply pales in comparison. Take note, people.
Side note: Do you have to see the original Blade Runner to understand Blade Runner 2049? Much like 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, you don’t have to see the previous entry(s), but it wouldn’t hurt to watch the original just so you can appreciate and understand the world you’re diving into.