Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, 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, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
Blade Runner 2049 is a newly released neo-noir science fiction film, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Ryan Gosling as Officer K and Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard from the original 1982 film. I’ve grown to enjoy and appreciate the original Blade Runner in my adult life more and more, so the idea of a sequel coming out left me instantly curious, yet cautious. On the one hand, the idea of a new sequel to a popular or well-known film long after the original frequently doesn’t bode well. I could not help but think that the decision was motivated by “brand recognition.” On the other hand, I do have a hard time imagining the general movie-going public clamouring at the mere notion of a sequel to this particular film — reactions not being something I usually go out of my way to look for lately, so I hadn’t seen this either.
Unlike the first film, which had a more straightforward plot with Deckard’s objective, there is a lot more at play in 2049. I find it a little hard to talk about in more detail than the synopsis provides, as I find there to be value in experiencing this story with as little knowledge as possible. What I feel I can say is, K’s seemingly routine mission at the onset to apprehend or “retire” a replicant in hiding propels him down a path of much greater mystery and intrigue. While it does the film is quite good about taking its time, having K conduct actual detective work as he unravels the secrets behind his discovery. There is a clear thread to follow that made me feel I was solving this case alongside him. There are plenty of good action-packed moments to keep the energy up, but the story almost always feels considered first.
As things unfold we’re given a great opportunity to immerse ourselves in the world. The original film had a very striking visual style of a dystopian, cyberpunk Los Angeles, and this film builds upon that quite well. From the gritty streets and monolithic skyscrapers to expansive junk-lands and hazy, blasted cityscapes, everything has a very lived-in quality to it and tells a history that enriches the story’s world. Characters divulge relevant historical details as well, but typically in a natural way that rarely feels obviously expository.
K’s place in the world is of important note too. As is revealed quite near the beginning, he is a replicant as well as a blade runner, tasked with hunting down his own kind. Many human beings don’t take kindly to his existence however, and we see this whether he is at LAPD headquarters or off duty. The ways the world views K, as well as the way he progressively sees himself, are fascinating to behold. I especially love how appropriately robotic Gosling portrays him, which contrasts wonderfully with the moments where his composure falters; in a few cases quite dramatically.
The film continues the exploration of what it means to be human and sapient, though in arguably more subtle ways, through K and other replicant characters, as well as Joi (Ana de Armas), K’s artificially intelligent holographic girlfriend. She is really sweet and well-meaning, lending a lot of heart that balances the more intense characters. Despite what I want to be the case, the fact she appears to be more of a product than even replicants makes me think the true nature of her relationship with K is something to be debated.
While I was especially interested in K as the main character, the supporting cast was strong throughout as well. It was great to see Ford on screen again as a world-weary Deckard, living a life of solitude but still ready to throw down if the need arises. He came across as much wiser than before, which suits the story. Robin Wright plays Lt. Joshi, K’s no-nonsense and pragmatic boss. I really liked how steadfastly committed she was to maintaining order and making sure the job gets done, yet she still managed to have a soft-spot for K. Whether she values him as another person or as a valuable tool, however, is unclear. Lastly I want to mention Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the deadly and relentless replicant agent of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who keeps a watchful eye on K’s investigation. I liked her a lot as a villainous presence, and there seemed to be more going on internally for her than we’re privy to, which I wish the film found a way to dedicate a some more time to. She was still well written and portrayed, there are interesting parallels between her and K, I just wish we got to understand her better.
Key moments of subtly are what make this film so strong for me. It’s hardly an enigma, and certain details do get more spelled out through audible flashbacks to keep the audience on track, but some of the most meaningful points in the story you have to give a little more thought to. When I initially left the theatre, I actually felt a little let down, and I think that’s because the climax and conclusion of the story did not hit the more familiar story beats one might expect from a big budget genre film. After taking a little time to process things, however, I almost adore the ways it all turned out. There is a clear arc to be found in the way characters behave throughout that comes together beautifully and poignantly by the end.
Something people may have trouble with when watching this film is the pacing, which I actually enjoyed myself. A lot of it is a slow burn, taking its time with plot developments and forward-movement in the story. At nearly three hours long this may bore other viewers, who likely come to expect a faster pace from films of this genre, which is the norm these days. I only experienced minor moments of drag, however, and otherwise loved it for being a more thoughtful, well-crafted science fiction film that took its time. It explores well-travelled territory — the validity of artificial life and what it means to be human — but executes it uniquely, telling a story that is ultimately much more personal for the characters involved than the brewing societal conflict in the background. It’s an excellent film, and if you’ve got even a passing interest I highly recommend it.