Despite the cult status of BLADE RUNNER, I’m no fan of the original. I can appreciate the film for its legacy, but I find it grim, dark, and completely devoid of hope and likable characters. It took 35 years for a sequel to be created – something both oddly unnerving and inspiring. Yet even with a star-studded cast and a world-class director, I approached BLADE RUNNER 2049 with trepidation. I shouldn’t have. Right from the beginning, I was completely enthralled. By the time BLADE RUNNER 2049 had ended, I was actually speechless.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 takes place 30 years after the original BLADE RUNNER. In the decades since the first film, not much has changed: Nexus-6 Replicants (a defective batch of lifelike androids) are still being hunted down by Blade Runners (cops that specialize in tracking, capturing, and killing Replicants). The first BLADE RUNNER centered around a manhunt, and BLADE RUNNER 2049 continues this tradition by centering its story around a missing person.
Ryan Gosling stars as K, a Blade Runner who also just so happens to be a Replicant. The film makes this explicitly clear from the start, and it leads to a fascinating portrayal of a Replicant that literally hunts down his own kind while also experiencing the prejudices of humans. During the course of his latest investigation, K discovers the long-deceased body of a Replicant that died in childbirth. Since Replicants shouldn’t be able to give birth, this sets off a rush to track down the whereabouts of the child. It’s a plot that, on one hand, is fairly simplistic. Yet the film also manages to create intense emotional and philosophical depth through believable character motivations and some extremely well-placed twists.
Perhaps the most unexpected delight of BLADE RUNNER 2049 is the relationship between K and his artificial intelligence girlfriend, Joi (played by Ana de Armas). Whereas K is an actual android with a corporeal body, Joi is a holographic AI. At first, the relationship seems like a twisted, funhouse mirror version of a human relationship. As the film progresses, it’s clear that – despite neither being human – the two characters are attempting to create what they believe love is. It’s a strong, powerful subplot that is acted out beautifully. It really does feel like K and Joi grow exponentially throughout the film, and their characters become nuanced and better remembered for it. The quiet scenes between these two robots (so similar, and yet so different) are among the finest that the film has to offer.
Although much has been made of Harrrison Ford’s return as Rick Deckard (the hero of the first BLADE RUNNER) and Jared Leto’s sinister and delightfully creepy robotic villain Niander Wallace – neither are in the film very long. It takes two hours before Ford appears, and he’s only in a handful of scenes. Similarly, Leto appears in a small smattering of scenes. Both actors are utilized effectively and the story is stronger for their limited involvement in the overall plot.
One of the most memorable parts of BLADE RUNNER 2049 is the setting. The first BLADE RUNNER is iconic in its use of neon to portray a futuristic Los Angeles, and BLADE RUNNER 2049 continues the legacy in stunning detail. The cinematography of director Denis Villeneuve is on full display here. The cityscape is alive with monolithic, dystopian overtones. But unlike the first film, BLADE RUNNER 2049 adds a ton of new details to the world that this film takes place in – and that is most noticeable in the fact that BLADE RUNNER 2049 includes many scenes that take place during the daytime. Sure, there are plenty of scenes that take place at night and during rainstorms – but the scenes that take place in daylight are singularly stunning. It actually took my breath away a few times. Perhaps the highlight was during a sequence in Las Vegas – where everything is filtered in tones of red and orange. The city has totally collapsed, and the eerie silence and lighting that showcase this dead place are hauntingly beautiful.
Unlike the first film, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a hopeful film. It tells a story about potential – of good triumphing in the face of evil and of humanity being found, even in the most unlikely of places. It’s a film that is lush, filled to the brim with color. It’s a stirring ode to humanity, to evolution, and to the next step in our existence. BLADE RUNNER 2049 moved me in a way that was completely unexpected and totally exhilarating. There is so much beauty to be found in this film, and it begs viewers to return again and again. Even with a runtime pushing three hours, the film never outstays its welcome. It’s a masterful film that completely surpasses the original in every single way.