Blade Runner 2049 review: The sequel we've all been praying for

Return to a beautiful, haunting and ever-so relevant vision of the future

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a deeply religious experience for many.

It may not have opened to universal acclaim, but Blade Runner was one of those immense works of art that took its time to settle. And when it did, it became the sci-fi classic it is today. Everything from its plot, direction, score to its deep philosophical themes became elements of meticulous film study and ponder.

In a world of reckless remakes and reboots, this is exactly the kind of revered masterpiece you stay clear of.

Enter the visionary Denis Villeneuve, with a handsome track record of stunning films like Sicario and Arrival. Thankfully he’s got a tale to tell - one that isn’t forced, nor made out of studio obligation. This is a complete film.

We always stay clear of spoilers, but we understand how significant a film like this is to viewers. So just to emphasise, we’ll be sure to stay clear of plot points not included in the trailers. 

The plot, briefly

Blade Runner 2049 springboards off the original to develop its own ideas and themes. It’s certainly convincing that this is what things could've looked like in this universe.

The original Blade Runner was a dystopian vision of 2019. While we don’t quite have 2-mile tall pyramid structures or hovercars quite yet, Scott’s thematic vision remains hauntingly relevant today. Villeneuve understands that its ideas were what mattered most, and centres the sequel on developing them above all else.

While all replicants were illegal on earth in the original film, new models like the Nexus-8 are legal now. All older models are due for “retirement”. No ambiguity here; Ryan Gosling’s Detective K is one of these newer replicants. He’s also a Blade Runner - humans really don’t want to do the dirty work.

Staying clear of spoilers, several revelations uncovered by K open up possibilities for a new and nightmarish way of replicant production – for slavery. It also causes K to question if there was more to his replicant existence than artifice. The narrative plays out true to its neo-noir roots, as we uncover new truths and clues with the detective in this grim telling of the future, many of which pose difficult moral challenges which aren’t easy to stomach at all. We’ll keep things as briefly as that for now.   

A truly beautiful film

This is one of the visually arresting films ever made. If you thought Arrival was pretty to look at, Blade Runner 2049 is an assault on the senses – the kind of awe-inspiring picture that arrests your attention and transports you to another realm the way sci-fi ought to. In short, Villeneuve and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins have absolutely nailed the look of the world of Blade Runner.

Much like the original, unhurried pacing reinforces this sense of immersion. We often find lengthy shots of the city, with the camera tailing a hover car, tracking shots over the pyramids, or just people doing their own thing. These shots are very much present in 2049, not never just for the sake of it. The filmmakers clearly understand how crucial it is for world-building, as the eerie images of a messy and rainy future, both literally and figuratively, take its time to sink in. They’ve recaptured the murkiness of the original’s aesthetic, CGI seems deliberately unpolished to create a reflection of the grey moral landscape of the future. 

Blade Runner and its legendary soundtrack were inseparable. It’s said that Vangelis wrote the score as an immediate response to watching the unfinished film, making it a deeply personal and raw accompaniment to the picture that has shaped the way we see its world. Hans Zimmer has brilliantly adapted Vangelis’ score, and while we can never expect anyone to quite evoke the original’s sheer intensity, the peculiar rumble of the reverb still sends shivers down your spine while the camera tracks over the city and recognisably, during scene transitions in their iconic jarring fashion. This is a remake that understands its source material on a spiritual level. 

Understanding the heart of Blade Runner

Wrestling with the search for a soul and identity were always at the crux of Blade Runner and it continues here. It doesn’t go back to explored ideas, but builds on it and broadens the argument. In a world where AI and clones have been explored pretty thoroughly with works like Westworld and Spielberg's AI – arguably products of a post-Blade Runner world – it takes quite a bit to ensure we aren’t treading on familiar ground.

Memories are brought to the spotlight. At a point in the film, we meet a memory designer who creates artificial memories to be “incepted” into replicants’ minds. It gives them some sort of identity and eases transition into the world as we know it.

Yet, she tells K it’s illegal to program “real memories” into a replicant, which begs the question: how fake can memories actually be? They’re still drawn from some source of real-world inspiration, and inevitably informs the replicant’s character and values. Ultimately, does this mean they have a soul? It effectively builds on the arguments formed in Blade Runner – the ability for love that proves a soul (we’re cringing as much as the other guy, but hey that summarises things) – and now memories.