When I went to see Blade Runner 2049 in theaters, I did so under terrible conditions. I saw it early in the morning while somewhat sleep deprived. I hadn’t watched the original Blade Runner (and still haven’t), so I’m already set to miss out on various references and callbacks to the original film. I also hadn’t eaten yet, which made it harder to focus. Combine all this with a movie length of 2 hours 43 minutes and a general lack of interest from seeing another “reboot” of a classic film, and it’s not hard to understand why I wouldn’t like it. I honestly wasn’t even planning to see the film, but it seemed to be receiving overall praise from critics and with Denis Villeneuve at the helm (director of Arrival, Sicario, Enemy and others), there was definitely enough potential to sway me into a seat. So how was it?
Blade Runner 2049 is miraculous. Instead of being held prisoner by the shackles of its legacy, 2049 ascends beyond them. Villeneuve has created a genuine masterpiece in spite of having made, ironically enough, a replicant of its predecessor.
What we have here is a film that borrows heavy inspiration from the original Blade Runner without becoming slave to it, which is something you hope most sequels/reboots will aspire to. The overall visual design, pacing and ambience of 2049 matches the original in all the right places, and makes improvements everywhere else. Where the original is mostly limited to its dark neon-lit city, 2049 travels around and reveals a greater world of uniquely defeated landscapes and people. The narrative borrows its overall pacing and sensibilities from the original as well, but complements it with less ambiguity and more straight up mystery. The film is full of long and subtle shots of either heavy atmosphere, or close ups of character expressions that reveal fathoms of humanity underneath. As for the soundtrack, there’s a brilliant arrangement of haunting yet simplistic electronic melodies that drape the movie in both wonder and oppression. 2049 breathes “show, not tell” into every facet, and in turn creates a vivid display of life in a setting often devoid of it. 2049 is dense in construct, but mesmeric in execution; every scene feels heavy and oppressive but you want to see more. You need to see more.
But there is a downside. This is a three hour film, and despite the marketing this is definitely not an action film. There’s some action in it, but the majority of what you’ll see is more explorative and characterizing. Expect plenty of long takes of just a person’s face, revealing all but saying nothing. It’s a slow ride, but wonderfully meticulous and worth every minute. 2049 is not a boring film, it’s challenging, but that challenge isn’t perhaps worth it to the average consumer.
Further, now is the perfect time for this kind of film, which strikes at the spine of society. We’re heading closer every day to a world driven by technology and perhaps devoid of human interaction, and 2049 is one of the best films to show us what that may eventually look like. There’s a brilliant story here about what it means to be human, most often framed from the perspective of those that aren’t. Humanity is so delicately explored throughout, and we’d be remiss to ignore that traversal or its lessons.
I’ve seen my fair share of well-made cinema, and I don’t speak lightly in saying that Blade Runner 2049 might be one of the best films ever made. It’s certainly the best sequel ever made, even considering films like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Godfather Part II. Maybe I can’t recommend it to all audiences, but I do honestly think everyone should watch it. And--one piece of advice--be an active audience member for this one. This movie requires some effort, but rarely have I seen a story, especially a story about machines, wield so much soul.