Minor spoilers throughout.
When I first watched the 1982 film Blade Runner, I decided halfway through I needed a break. It wasn’t the fast-paced sci-fi that I expected. A few months later, I managed to get through it…and I hated it. It was two hours of slow pacing and little action. A few months ago, genuinely wanting to like the film, I sat down to watch it for the third time…and I loved it. Just as everyone despises their first sip of Pinot noir, I could not truly appreciate the movie until I had acquired the taste for it. Regardless of how objectively good a movie is, it can be difficult to appreciate it if you go in expecting something entirely different. You have to accept it for what it is (even if it takes you three tries). The original Blade Runner is simply one of the most brilliant films I’ve ever seen.
My biggest mistake was listening to modern day Ridley Scott. Scott’s “interpretation” of the film differs greatly from mine, Harrison Ford’s, and Rutger Hauer’s. I watched the movie knowing what Scott asserts is true: Detective Deckard (Ford) is a replicant. Blade Runner 2049 asserts he isn’t. It’s a good choice. 2049 does several things right that the original did wrong. But the character known as “K” (played by Ryan Gosling) is a replicant. He’s a true detective, using his wits to uncover clues in this futuristic noir. Gosling uses his wits to hunt down replicants and eventually, Deckard. Along the way, we discover what sinister plans Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has in store.
2049 is undoubtedly more exciting than its predecessor. It is just as beautifully shot and designed as Blade Runner and feels like a natural future to the original’s time period of 2019. It even captures the brilliance of the original in most ways. We get a new setting that feels just as possible to us now as the original movie did back then. The 2 hour and 44 minute runtime certainly qualifies 2049 as a slow burn, but it certainly managed to keep my attention and interest (even in some of the duller moments).
K is a replicant whose name is simply the first letter of his UPC code. His main companion is the artificially intelligent hologram Joi (Ana de Armas). As someone who is frightened by AI in sci-fi, I was shocked to find out how much I cared about K and Joi’s relationship. In a scene very similar to the movie Her, Joi attempts to hire a surrogate to simulate sex, a moment that is as sweet as it is disturbing. Joi is the only real relationship K has. His handler, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) cares about him, but dismisses K’s feelings with this sentiment: “you’ve gotten along just fine without [a soul].”
People call K “skinner” and “skinjob” to his face, graffiti his front door, and even unconsciously drop the “s-bomb” when he’s in the room. Replicants are not just despised, they’re less than human. K seems to take this with a grain of salt, but in the smaller moments we see they begin to pile up on him. It’s not that he doesn’t feel emotion; it’s that no one would care if he did. In a film where characters tone down, ignore, or otherwise eliminate emotions, the most important part is for them to reach a catharsis. We listen as Joi tells K he’s a “real boy,” but he is unwilling to truly believe that. The case he’s investigating is a big one: Deckard and the replicant Racheal (Sean Young) had a child. People want the child found. Beginning with the smallest of clues, K unravels the case and learns more than he could have imagined. Worse yet is that there are unseen dangers to such truths.
I thoroughly enjoyed Blade Runner 2049. It is a worthy addition to the world and a movie that could have been made in 1982, today, or 30 years from now. We shall see if it receives the same cult status as its predecessor. I certainly hope so.
For a worthy sequel to a sci-fi classic: 10/10
As its own movie: 8/10