Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) is indeed a worthy sequel, even if it cannot equal Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 original film. (And this is absolutely understandable — I opine that Scott’s dour, challenging “Blade Runner” is arguably the greatest movie of all time.) Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t — but I sufficiently enjoyed this movie to rate it a 9 out of 10.
There is a lot going on here in terms of plot. I won’t be specific about what I liked and what I didn’t like, because I want to avoid spoilers. (There are definitely some surprise plot developments, and this is a relatively recent film that fans have waited no fewer than 35 years to see.) But I’m happy to report that “Blade Runner 2049” satisfies by being a direct and logical follow-up in terms of character, plot and setting.
I do think that this would be a stronger standalone story if it had included the material that was relegated to the online short films that serve as its companions. (You can find all three of them at Open Culture right here.) The first one, “Black Out 2022,” is probably necessary to understanding the feature film’s story and ought to be required viewing.
The visuals were vivid and arresting, the action sequences were generally satisfying, and the acting across the board was quite good. Harrison Ford was predictably perfect. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks are suitably intense and make terrific bad guys. (I’ve always loved Leto’s work — even his criminally underappreciated, spot-on interpretation of DC Comics’ “The Joker.”) And Carla Juri nearly steals the entire movie with her mesmerizing performance in a supporting role.
What I liked best about “Blade Runner 2049” was how surprisingly well it captured the … vibe, I guess, of the first film — its existential angst and the surprising tragic nobility of its characters. Simply put, this film got the feeling right. For me, this was best evidenced by a poetic subplot between the characters played by Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas. It’s great dystopian science fiction — a fusion of troubling futurism and genuine human emotion. And the mood was greatly enhanced by an evocative score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.
There are were a couple of things that I didn’t like — they were plot points that I won’t detail here. The pacing also felt too slow, at times. (This is a long movie, at two hours and 44 minutes.) And the the climactic fight scene felt just a bit claustrophobic and awkwardly executed. (It’s a far cry from the epic feel of the original’s rainswept rooftop confrontation.)
I’d still cheerfully recommend “Blade Runner 2049” to fans of Scott’s film. I’d caution them to sit down with it with as few expectations as possible, though, and to just enjoy this second chapter on its own merits. It’s mostly great stuff.