Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what's left of society into chaos. K's discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
It's not hyperbole to say that Blade Runner was a cultural touchstone and influenced countless pieces of art since 1982 - design, music, fiction, filmmaking, fashion, whatever. Blade Runner has driven itself under the skin and become as much a part of our DNA as any film has before or since, almost to the point where you can't look at rain and neon in a film and not think of it. The fact that Ridley Scott came back to the film so many times in order to perfect it means that it's a work of art that bears repeat viewing and the same can be said for Blade Runner 2049. It requires repeat viewings, if only to see how and where it reaches you and why.
Without going too much into the story, the story takes up thirty years after the events of the film and sees the state of California covered in a cloud of grey skies and permanent rain. K (Gosling) is a replicant who works with the LAPD to hunt his own kind and retire them. When sent to hunt down an earlier version named Sapper (Dave Bautista), he unearths something that has both a deep, personal connection for him and something much larger than he could possibly imagine. Compared to the first film, 2049's story is far less defined by noir tropes than the original. We may see K slugging back whiskey and wearing a trenchcoat, but there's an emptiness to it that speaks more to K's character than anything else. The film makes a point of introducing characters - such as Robin Wright's blunt police chief referred to only as Madam, or Mackenzie Davis' "pleasure model" character, Mariette - and then either not using them efficiently, or building them in the story only to discard them later on.
The biggest flaw in Blade Runner 2049 is, by far, the structure and the story. Technically, it's nothing short of a marvel and you will not find a better-looking film than this all year - or maybe ever. The way in which Roger Deakins' cinematography works in concert with Denis Villeneuve's use of production and sound design is completely immersive. The screen just washes over you, to the point that you'll almost forget to blink in spaces. Likewise, the echoes of Vangelis' iconic soundtrack is blended together with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's take to create something that feels artificial and yet completely of its own world. The use of colour in each scene is so carefully crafted and selected with taste and respect that you can't fault Villeneuve for a second. The same goes for both Gosling and Ford, who both give some of their best performances in years. Ford, in particular, has never been more alive on screen than he is in this - and reminds us all of what a talent he is when he chooses to be. The supporting cast, including newcomer Sylvia Hoeks as replicant henchwoman Luv, all fill out their roles - but the problem is that the story doesn't use them effectively or at all.
It's hard to discuss the story in Blade Runner 2049 without giving away some hugely important reveals, and the film is best experienced when you come at it completely without foreknowledge. However, there's certain threads in the story that either point towards a different outcome written that wasn't excised from the shooting script, or for another film to come after this one. Either way, it's a flaw in something that is by design perfect in every way. Maybe too perfect. There are so many parts of Blade Runner 2049 that fit too seamlessly and too well within the structure of the original, and originality is something that the first one had in spades that this doesn't. Then again, maybe it's not supposed to be original. Maybe it's supposed to be a continuation - and on that basis, it works. It compliments the original, but only in the way that something that doesn't need complimenting.
Simply put, Blade Runner 2049 is an exquisitely made, beautifully realised film. There are so many moments and scenes in this film that'll rank as some of the most gorgeous you're ever likely to see. However, it won't inspire people in the way that the original did because it is, in itself, an elegant facsimile of what came before. Like the replicants in the film, Blade Runner 2049 is cursed with the knowledge and reality of its own existence.
It can't be anything other than what it is - a sequel to something that didn't need a sequel.