In Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve has proven himself up to a task that seemed insurmountable; he made a sequel to a classic that neither lessens nor retreads its predecessor, but meaningfully expands upon it.
While the original Blade Runner failed to make an impact financially, and on critics during its original 1982 theatrical run, 35 years and seven different cuts later (the latest being the 2007 Final Cut, considered the definitive version by director Ridley Scott and fans), the film has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the greatest science-fiction films.
For those unfamiliar, the original Blade Runner, set in a then far-off future of 2019, featured a world in which humanity had largely fled a ruined Earth in favor of “offworld colonies,” which were built and maintained by artificially grown androids known as “Replicants.” Manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation, Replicants were barred from Earth, and those that managed to escape to the planet were hunted down by police officers called “Blade Runners.” Flash forward 30 years later, very little has changed and what change there has been is most certainly for the worse. However, this time around, we follow the Blade Runner Officer K,, played by Ryan Gosling, rather the first film’s hero Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, though the latter is still integral to the film.
The most distinctive thing about Blade Runner was its color scheme, which mixed a cool blue color-pallette with lighting of a noir reminiscent of the 1940s, creating a distinctive cyber-punk aesthetic. 2049’s cinematographer Roger Deakins crafts a similar tone, but adds a drab grey to create the impression of a world entirely devoid of hope. While practical effects were prominently used to bring the film’s setting to life, the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), or specifically how it is used, must be commended. Quite honestly, Blade Runner 2049 has some of the most inventive uses of CGI effects I’ve seen in a Hollywood film, from a scene where a hologram is superimposed over another character’s form, to another where a certain character from the original is presented, de-aged via mo-cap. It’s similar to Rogue One’s digital resurrection of Peter Cushing, though in this case, the uncanny valley effect adds to the scene rather than distracting from it.
Another aspect that doesn’t disappoint is the cast. Gosling continues to prove himself one of Hollywood’s most skilled leading men, while Sylvia Hoeks gives what’s sure to be a breakout role as the film’s villain. Harrison Ford is an actor of whom it is easy to tell when he’s invested in a role versus where he’s just there for the paycheck-2049 is thankfully the former; he perfectly encapsulates the bitter, haunted man Deckard has become.
Despite my praises, this film isn’t for everyone; I’d argue it isn’t slow in terms of narrative progression, but its length and frequent lack of dialogue can still leave that impression. Regardless, I’d encourage everyone to give it a shot and see it in theaters while they can.