I just want this to be good. Nothing else matters. For obvious reasons, I am going to omit the usual plot summary after the introduction.
Trying to succeed Blade Runner is like justifying the existence of Big Bang Theory. It never needed to happen, it should not happen, but for some reason (you know why) it happened. The original Blade Runner is one of the most important science fiction movies ever made. It more or less created cyber-punk and showed sci-fi could be more mature and capable of telling a deep story. Of all the classics it did not need a sequel. Nobody, including other hardcore fans, asked for this. The original was just fine on its own and somehow we got 2049.
Like Force Awakens the deck was always stacked against it. Being better than a bad movie is as easy as punching a blind toddler, but being better than a genre-defining classic is next to impossible. With Force Awakens, callbacks and references aside, it succeeded by being great. As I said in the beginning, all 2049 needs to be is good and watchable.
I would have ignored it had Denis Villeneuve not been involved. So far he has yet to make a bad film with Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival to his name. Rather than buckle under pressure he grabs the reins and leads the way in his most ambitious project yet. Being a visual director he takes full advantage of the world’s unique style. Blade Runner is saturated in neon with lived in and weathered sets, packed to the gills with people and detail. It is surprising how such elements were standard practice back in the day look like pieces of art in a time of overwhelming CG.
2049 maintains the aesthetic of decay while looking updated, being 30 years after the events of the original. It is also darker with light doused in a perpetual haze or relegated to certain areas of the setting. You really feel the world standing on the edge of total collapse, fitting perfectly in line Villeneuve’s signature. He puts the desolation on display with beautifully bleak and imposing landscapes. Most of the interiors are well lit, but emphasize the ever-present grime of the world. Being a noir, Villeneuve makes great use of the darkness to supplement the atmosphere of decay and mystery of the narrative. It helps that the practical and visual effects used in these shots are stunning.
For spoiler reasons I am going to avoid talking about the writing or acting. The latter is obvious, but judging the performances could lead to unintentional revelations. I will say that Sylvia Hoeks was the stand out as Luv, a replicant dedicated to her job, and it was nice to see Harrison Ford care about his role. The man is 75 and a cultural icon, so I understand when he wants a break. Actually, I will give away one spoiler:
The trailer for Pacific Rim: Uprising was shown and it looks like hammered shit.
A couple negatives of note are the music and the placement of a particular scene. The issue of score may have more to do with the theater in which I saw the movie. Whenever a French horn or loud synthesizer would blare, it literally shook the auditorium with a loud creaking noise. I would say about half the tracks in 2049 have this sound and it was irritating. Even Hans Zimmer would tell the composer to tone it down. As for the faulty scene, it comes out of nowhere, like it was from an older draft of the script. The lead up did not fit or feel natural given the tone. Maybe I am missing something, but that scene should have been moved or reworked.
This does not feel like much of a review with everything I left out. Without the name Blade Runner in the title, 2049 is just another great film from Denis Villeneuve. On its own merit it has enough going on that keeping you in the dark is the only respectful thing I can do. A lot of my reviews of good movies are short because why ruin something you should see for yourself? 2049 may not be groundbreaking, but it is well worth the nearly three-hour runtime. It is a great film and that is all that counts in the long run. However, I would advise watching the Final Cut version of the original before buying a ticket.