35 years is a long wait for a sequel.
But Blade Runner 2049 has finally hit theaters after decades of ideas, stalled developments, and filming. How does the final product stand out?
It is easily the most visually beautiful film of 2017.
Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 years after the future. Renegade Tyrell replicants are still evading capture, despite the end of the Tyrell Corporation. From its ashes, the Wallace Corporation has arisen, providing a newer, and more docile and obedient replicant. And now, some of those replicants are blade runners.
One such blade runner is an agent named K (Ryan Gosling), a Nexus-9 model that is sent to hunt down and dispatch any rogues that he finds. His latest bust reveals something that should be impossible, a “miracle”, as described by replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). But this discovery comes with a price: Such knowledge could fundamentally change everything, and destroy the hierarchy between human and replicant forever.
K’s quest leads him to find more answers. Not only answers to this newly-discovered miracle, but the role that he now plays in this new mystery. Of course, the Wallace Corporation wants this secret as well, and deploys its assistant/assassin “Luv” (Sylvia Hoeks) to involve herself in the investigation. She also wants K to find these answers, but her motivations are vastly different.
Blade Runner 2049 takes the cyberpunk world of the original film and expands upon it. Things have not gotten better in the world. Los Angeles is in even worse shape, with flood walls to prevent the toxic ocean from flooding the city. San Diego is a giant trash dump. Las Vegas is an abandoned civilization. There are still familiar callbacks, such as ads for Atari and Pan-Am, but for those who have never found their way off-world, things have become harder and more isolated.
For K, companionship comes in the form of “Joi” (Ana de Armas), a beautiful, holographic “virtual girlfriend” that is designed to be whatever her partner wants and needs. Despite the simple premise, she turns out to be one of the most complex and interesting characters and relationships in the film. As the film’s story continues, she shows signs of individuality, self-awareness, insecurity, and a willingness to take risks. As with the previous Blade Runner, this film is designed to not so much answer questions as it is to openly discuss and contemplate the questions presented. Is Joi purely a product of her programming, or does she have the capacity to evolve as well?
Of course, viewers are reunited with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), and are given a chance to see what has become of his life since the events of the original film. Again, some questions remain unanswered, and regardless of whether you believe that Decker himself is either human or replicant, either “truth” bears significant consequence to the larger mystery at play. As a fan, it is admittedly fun to see Harrison Ford reprise all of these earlier roles, though he does carry his standard “over it” attitude that he’s become so well known for. Regardless, his role in the film is only really introduced in the third act, but his participation is believable, sympathetic, and important.
Blade Runner 2049 shares the open ended philosophy of the original Blade Runner. Agent K, when given choices, becomes more than what he was designed for, and even when he has his own questions answered, he still works for find his meaning and place in the larger story. K wants to be valued, have purpose, have meaning, and his own growth plays well with what the meaning of “humanity” and having a soul is for each individual.
There’s much to appreciate about Blade Runner 2049: The visuals, the music, the story, the philosophical aspects. While having more action than the original film, this is by no means a “popcorn flick”, and is more a cinematic experience. At nearly 3 hours, the film does not rush its pace, and several scenes are allowed to breathe, letting the viewer truly soak in this evolved world. It’s a fascinating exploration that will ultimately need multiple viewings to take everything in.
Blade Runner 2049 has been one of the film highlights for me this year. I appreciated the things it asked as much as the things that it didn’t answer. It’s provided some interesting discussion and online research for even more discussion, and like its predecessor, it will be a film that film enthusiasts will discuss for years to come.