The original “Blade Runner” is a staple of science fiction and 1980s filmmaking that has become one of the most iconic dystopian and neo noir movies of all time. Following it up, especially over 30 years later, is no easy task but that’s exactly Warner Bros. and director Denis Villeneuve have attempted to do with “Blade Runner 2049”. Filled with delightful imagery, an engaging story, classic yet subtle references to its predecessor, and memorable characters the second “Blade Runner” film may have a different feel from the first, but in a way it may actually be even an better movie overall. I will warn that some of the very small details in this review MAY be minor spoilers (since to be honest it’s near impossible not to include one or two surprises when discussing this film) so a minor SPOILER ALERT. Don’t worry though, I won’t spoil the big revelations in the overall story.
“Blade Runner 2049” takes place in its titular year, 30 years after the events of the first film, and finds the replicants now assimilated into society in many different functions. One of those functions is as obedient officers like replicant K, a modern Blade Runner and our main protagonist played by Ryan Gosling. After taking down a runaway replicant K finds a much larger mystery unfolding before his eyes, one connected to former Blade Runner Rick Deckard, again played by Harrison Ford. Assigned to eliminate replicants involved in the conspiracy, K pieces together the truth and, in the process, begins to question his own humanity and existence as a new corporation in charge of producing replicants seeks to use the conspiracy for their own gain.
I was really excited to see that Denis Villeneuve would be in the director’s chair for this movie. The man seems to have a knack for science fiction projects with deeper themes, as proven by “Arrival” last year, and he didn’t disappoint, living up to my expectations by delivering a grounded, entertaining, and philosophical sequel to a film that, in itself, was already drenched in subtext. Here though the “Blade Runner” universe deals with more modern themes including an updated look at class struggle, complete with the concept of replicants killing their own kind, and examinations of how technology has effected human intimacy. it even questions one’s own purpose and humanity in a world where you’re supposed to stay in line and take orders as they come. That’s a lot for any movie to tackle, but “Blade Runner 2049” tastefully handles all of these concepts over the course of its nearly three-hour run time and it does it all in a smooth and gripping manner that doesn’t overplay its deeper narrative to spite the more entertaining qualities of the film.
Despite all the fuss about Harrison Ford returning as Rick Deckard in this film I must say he’s actually very much overshadowed and that’s not for a lack of quality on Ford’s part. Deckard doesn’t really show up on screen until MAYBE half way through the movie and while Ford does effectively capture what we can truly believe is an older, wiser, and more broken Deckard it’s actually Ryan Gosling’s K that stands out as the main man of this epic. Deckard becomes an unwilling piece in the puzzle that is the larger narrative and is essentially established as a side character in his own franchise, serving as more of a tool for K’s personal journey than the focal point of the film in its entirety and I actually enjoyed that approach to the movie.
As for K, he is an replicant made specifically to be a Blade Runner, meaning he is hunting and killing his own kind but is designed to be completely obedient and responsive without emotional subtext to his kills. Once the larger mystery begins to unfold K finds he may have a closer connection to the situation than previously thought, which sends his psyche into a spiral as he questions who he is. This makes K a much more intriguing character study that Deckard, as the ongoing mystery behind whether or not Deckard is a replicant remains relatively unanswered in this film. While we have assumed and hypothesized Deckard’s humanity, we know K is a replicant and thus it’s intriguing to see how a known replicant embraces a role of killing those like him.
Gosling captures this character perfectly, giving us a replicants that starts off as dry non-nonsense officer set in his simple lifestyle, but soon finds that he longs for a more human existence of chaos and actual connection to those around him. The whole narrative centers on him, even when the focus shifts to Deckard’s subplot, as K tries to understand his meaning for living and shows the same signs that replicants in the first film started to show. While he isn’t quite as deep and memorable as Roy Batty (the antagonist from the first movie who shared many personality traits with K) both characters play an important part in driving home the human concepts hidden in their respective movies and while Batty proved to be a character driven by brutality and a thirst for life K has a full life he can live, but he’s not sure if he has done it right or if he’s even allowed to do it right. Gosling adds a whole new layer to being a replicant in a world where these clones have supposedly been perfected and he is truly the centerpiece of this entire adventure and rightfully so.
The film is filled with other memorable standout performances, including Robin Wright as a lieutenant in charge of K and Ana de Armas as K’s hologram love interest Joi. However it’s the two villains I want to focus on here, Niander Wallace, played by Jared Leto who has sense taken over the production of replicants and seeks to use a new way to producing them, and Luv, a replicant sidekick to Wallace played by Sylvia Hoeks who is skilled in combat and proves to be a resourceful right hand woman. These two are much more decidedly evil than the replicants that served as the enemies in the original movie, but they’re still very deep and well designed as the two seek to take advantage of a new discovery to add to Wallace’s business. While Leto really doesn’t get a lot of screen time he makes the best of his soft spoken and philosophical blind businessman by making him as charming and likable as ever, but with an undertone that would truly send shivers up your spine. Hoeks steals the show in many scenes as Luv, an appropriately named symbolic representation of a person who is both a tool and a free spirit serving Wallace not because she has to, but because she actually relishes in her purpose in life. Luv is at the center of many of the evil acts that take place in the film and Hoeks makes her an intimidating but strangely likable antagonist who does the dirty work in the public eye.
On top of everything this film just looks and feels great. Everything we knew from the first film is here including nods to the overt advertising and aesthetic and atmosphere of the world we knew from the 80s classic. This feels like a world that has certainly evolved over 30 years, but only as much as it might have in reality with subtle changes and improvements making it a more presentable and livable backdrop without sacrificing anything that made the world of “Blade Runner” so facinating to begin with. We also get the classic music returning with Hanz Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch teaming up to build on the famous score, giving it a modern edge while maintaining it’s classic feel. From the noir backdrop and narrative, to the sound design and attention to visual detail “Blade Runner 2049” is one of the most beautiful movies of 2017 and is decidedly brighter and more polished than the original film.
I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this movie and while it also inherits its predecessors slow pace for the benefit of good story telling “Blade Runner 2049” is a solid film and a complete movie experience the whole way through if you’re willing to devote the time to it. A lot of great decisions were made to bring the world of “Blade Runner” back after 30 years, giving it a modern touch with respect to the source material, and the focus is squarely on the new additions to the franchise instead of pandering with an overabundance of Harrison Ford and other overt throwbacks to the first adventure. “Blade Runner 2049” is as much its own film as it is a fitting and appropriate continuation of what we saw from the 80s classic. This is how sequels SHOULD be done and while it might not be an instant classic it deserves to be considered right along with its predecessor as a masterpiece of science fiction and neo noir.