clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Officer K in Blade Runner 2049

Filed under:

Blade Runner 2049 review

The sequel that we’ve been hoping for

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

The first thing you notice about Blade Runner 2049 is the sound.

It washes over you, like the gentle turning of the tide, rolling up to your body, blanketing you. It’s all-encompassing. It’s the type of sound whose pitch worms its way into your brain, sending chills down your body. The music is inescapable, but it’s also comforting. It’s the same feeling that courses through you when Blade Runner begins and that’s important to note.

Blade Runner 2049 couldn’t exist without Blade Runner and not just because it’s a sequel. Everything about its markup, the way it looks, sounds and communicates its message, is ripped from Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece. Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t so much as look forward as much as it reaches back, caressing the memory of what has come before it. Everything is familiar and disorienting all at once.

When the first image appears on screen, a beautiful monochromatic sequence that reverberates in tune to the symphonic score, however, that’s when Blade Runner 2049 proves just how different it is. There are elements of Blade Runner 2049 that are pulled straight from the original, but it succeeds in pushing the narrative forward. There’s just enough old to satiate the lingering nostalgic desire, complimented by modern technology, full of better educated guesses of what a dystopian future would look like.

Here’s the thing about Blade Runner 2049 and, specifically, this review: It’s impossible to discuss any of the plot without giving away far too much. There’s a spoiler tucked into every conversation, poking out from every angle. It’s a universe that we know so much about, but admittedly understand almost nothing about in this new installment. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about the plot — I very much do — it’s just that I can’t without spoiling major narrative details.

Instead, I’m going to focus on what makes Blade Runner 2049 such a vivid, emotional and enthralling experience: the sound of the film and the stunning cinematography that brings it all together.

Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049
Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049
Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

Music is a big part of Blade Runner 2049’s identity. It doesn’t just define the ambience, morphing from a dystopian Shakespearian play one minute into a fantasy romance, but it fills in the silent gaps that run through the movie. Like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 is slower paced; dialogue is supplemented with long, panning shots that seem to take up more screen than imagined, the music becoming louder and crisper with each second.

The music in Blade Runner 2049 has a very important job. In the tensest of moments, it’s the role of Blade Runner 2049’s score to incur a sense of actual panic and dread in you. It creates a claustrophobic vice around your throat, dropping a pound of cement on your chest. There’s an urgency in Blade Runner 2049 that makes everything occurring on screen feel more frightening, although there’s nothing outright horrifying about it. The score is what draws you in immediately, from the film’s very first few seconds, and it’s what greets you on the way out.

There’s a comfort in the score humming along in the backdrop, announcing itself only in the most crucial moments. The score guides your journey through Blade Runner 2049; it’s elaborate, twisting and winding with every new detail. The score is impossible to ignore at its height, unrelenting in its demand to be paid attention to.

The only aspect of the movie that deserves just as much praise is the cinematography. Like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 imagines a problematic future that is awing with its basic beauty. Color has faded save for the vibrant, neon billboards that line the streets, promising fantasies that can never be realities and selling livelihoods that can never be fulfilled. The monochromatic tones match the bleakness of those living in cramped spaces. The orange hues that appear later in the movie represent a newfound hope.

Ryan Gosling standing in front of a hologram in Blade Runner 2049. Image: Warner Bros.

It’s the use of color, texture and objects in Blade Runner 2049 that makes the grimdark universe feel gritty and real or fantastical all at once. It’s a manic cyberpunk fever dream, drizzled with just enough conviction and possibility that we can believe in the imagined future for a brief moment. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins manage to create a world that pays homage to the vision Scott created decades ago without ever feeling anachronistic in doing so. Scott’s influence is notable, etched into every corner, but the direction is very much Villeneuve’s.

Where Blade Runner 2049 loses some of its magic is in its length and sometimes dwindling plot. The movie runs at two hours and forty-four minutes, and there are multiple moments where the film could have ended to suffice the audience. It’s because the plot is drawn out, ensuring that every detail is covered, that the movie runs for such a long period of time — and feels like it does. Again, I can’t discuss any of the plot without giving far too much away, but there are certain conversations and events that simply don’t need to occur.

That said, Blade Runner 2049 is a remarkable film that more than accomplishes what it set out to achieve: adding to what Scott created all those years ago. It stands on its own two feet, but feels coherent within the universe it’s taking influence from. Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford give charming, impressive performances, but again, it’s the music and cinematography that walk away the true stars.

Blade Runner 2049 feels like a movie decades in the making, something that we’ve been waiting for, anxiously anticipating to see what could be done and nervously peeking through hand-covered-eyes in case the movie didn’t meet our expectations. Blade Runner 2049 more than exceeds those expectations and is proof of how a sequel can be just as good as the original movie, even if released decades apart.

Polygon’s Quality Control is a podcast that dives inside our reviews of games, movies and hardware. Listen below, and on iTunes.