I walked into Blade Runner 2049 not really sure what to expect. It had gotten really good reviews, particularly in its role as a follow-up to the 1982 science fiction classic Blade Runner. I was coming in without actually having seen the original Blade Runner, and I was interested in the idea of seeing a sequel without having watched the original movie. I wasn’t sure whether this perspective was going to help me. In the end, I think it ended up sort of doing both.
Blade Runner focuses on K (Ryan Gosling), a bioengineered human — known as a “replicant” — who works for the LAPD as a “blade runner,” seeking out older models of replicants and killing, or “retiring,” them. The lingo sounds like a lot from that sentence, but it’s really not too hard to get the hang of. After the LAPD learns that a female replicant once gave birth to a child, K is ordered to find the child and retire it, since his boss worries that the knowledge that replicants can reproduce could lend weight to growing replicant freedom movements and ultimately come to threaten the order of society. This mission brings K into contact with many interesting characters, such as “memory-maker” Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) and Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the owner of the company that manufactures replicants.
The film overall is both gripping and visually beautiful. There’s an undercurrent of environmental collapse, which by 2049 has left California reduced to a rainy, snowy wasteland. It’s easy to become invested in the character of K, as he navigates a relationship with his artificial-intelligence girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) and begins to question whether he is actually the very child he is supposed to kill. The story ends with a delightful twist that I won’t reveal here, but that reinforces its overall touching messages about humanity and the innate beauty of the world.
There were a few aspects in which the film seemed to lag a little. At two hours and forty-three minutes long, there were a few scenes that dragged out more than they really needed to, and Leto’s character, while well played, may not have needed to be there at all. He represented an important aspect of how people are often treated by corporations, but his science-fiction God complex wasn’t really anything we haven’t seen before. The far more interesting and convincing villain came in the character of his replicant assistant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). She was the one who represented the realest threat and seemed the most three-dimensional, the one who really struck fear in the heart whenever she appeared. (I was also expecting to see more of Harrison Ford based on the promotional posters, but he played the part of Rick Deckard so convincingly and I was so happy when he did show up that I forgot about this pretty easily.)
Blade Runner 2049 was ultimately a captivating story and a joy to watch. It wasn’t the action-packed thrill ride one sometimes expects from science fiction stories, favoring instead a more thoughtful, cinematic, and existential approach. But it pulled it off brilliantly, and managed to convincingly revive some of Blade Runner’s original storylines while also telling an appealing story of its own.