Has there ever been a more beautiful vision of a dystopian society than what Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins serve up in Blade Runner 2049? Even a photo of a dead tree will be captivating to those around you. Nuclear wastelands, city-sized garbage dumps, and coastal dams will all amaze. Visually, this is exactly the sequel that Blade Runner deserved.
Story-wise, Blade Runner 2049 is probably the sequel that Blade Runner deserved as well, though that’s not necessarily a compliment. The story is muddled right from the hard-to-read title cards that try to bring us up to date on what’s happened in that world’s last 30 years.
The facts in the title cards turn out to be quite important to keep up in Blade Runner 2049’s world as we follow an LAPD officer (Ryan Gosling) trying to solve a 30-year-old mystery involving our old friend Deckard (Harrison Ford). Though it is unfortunate that the title cards are as dense as they are, I would not have wanted the movie to try to retell its background story, as the 163 minute run time is plenty long enough already!
Refreshingly, Blade Runner’s world is not our world. It is an alternative future, so there is no attempt to revise the original’s timeline (as you may recall, Blade Runner is set in 2019 in a world where robot slaves are fighting space battles and colonizing other planets for humans, so things did not exactly turn out in our world as the first film predicted). Interestingly, those differences make it easier for the view to focus on the similarities between their world and ours. Villeneuve has delivered another very thoughtful, deliberate and satisfying sci-fi film, and it’s easy to analogize to our world every time a replicant is treated as disposable property (which happens a lot). The film also offers a lot to chew on regarding memory and the nature of reality. Honestly, I’m still digesting it all as a I write, while also trying to sort out a few of the story’s finer points, and this film is one that I’m going to have to watch again to get everything sorted.
It’s remarkable how closely this sequel resembles the first movie, in style and substance, despite being released 35 years later. More remarkably, at the same time it is paying tribute to the original, Blade Runner 2049 is telling a fresh story set in this familiar world, and manages to leave the original movie’s largest question unanswered in a surprisingly satisfying way. So while Blade Runner 2049 is not the best movie of 2017, it is a good movie made great by its technical excellence, which naturally makes it the perfect sequel to Blade Runner.