Around 2012 or 2013, news came out about Ridley Scott possibly wanting to direct a Blade Runner sequel. At the time both I and the rest of the world were, very understandably, reluctant to even consider such a thing. Blade Runner as a movie is a singular entity, there's nothing about it that suggests or demands a sequel necessarily, and at the time poorly thought out sequels to decades-old properties were becoming the new "thing" in Hollywood. Over time though, this project has changed significantly. Ridley Scott stepping down and Denis Villeneuve taking over was the first sign that perhaps there was something here, perhaps this sequel had the potential to be something more than a nostalgia-driven cashgrab and a paycheck for Harrison Ford.
After finally seeing it, I can assure you that this movie is not only a more-than-worthy successor to the original, but an absolute masterpiece in it's own right. The fact that this is the movie we ended up with is incredible. Visually, this movie is absolutely stunning, and is something that has to be seen in theaters. The grungy, dystopian Los Angeles is grey and boxy, full of noise and bright neon lights, holographic advertising all but taking over the city. The irradiated Las Vegas, silent and empty, covered in an orange haze which fills every shot and permeates the environment with a strange, alien feeling. The Wallace HQ, filled with lighting that seemingly has no source, slowly moving as if it has a will of its own, constantly alternating darkness and light in an otherworldy fashion. In one scene, a broken holographic projector is turned on, set to play performances of old rock stars like Elvis and Sinatra, but the sound and visuals are corrupted, so what we get is a hauntingly silent image of Elvis singing nothing on stage, punctuated with sudden bursts of glitchy sound that immediately fades back to silence.
I could go on and on about the brilliance of the visuals of this film and the extremely well-made set pieces, but no words I could say could do it justice. It builds on the original Blade Runner so well, creating a setting that is completely familiar, but obviously even farther in the future than the original. The world they live in is one that doesn't seem too far off from what ours could become, but is just foreign and futuristic enough to be exciting and interesting. The setting communicates the history of the world the film takes place in, every sign printing it's message in multiple languages, suggesting a much more multi-cultural world than even the one we live in now. The dreariness of every day life, the prominence of prostitution and sex, the overwhelming poverty, all of this contributes to a world that is clearly over. Off-world colonies are where everyone truly wants to be, and everyone left on Earth is suffering through what we've done to the planet. It's a disgusting, beautiful world, draped in technological advancement that proved to be completely useless when it comes to human happiness.
Exploring this incredible world is Ryan Gosling as K, in what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of his best roles. Not too long ago, Gosling was simply another actor in the rom-com lineup, but after his breakout role in Drive, he is proving again and again to be one of the finest currently working actors. We learn very early on that his character is both a Blade Runner, and a replicant, a character cursed to be hated by both human and replicant alike. His job is to hunt down old Nexus-8 models, which Tyrell secretly built an indefinite life span into, and "retire" them. It is on his first job of the film that K discovers a secret that could cause chaos if it were to be discovered by the public. An old Nexus-8, 30 years dead at this point, somehow gave birth. A replicant was born into this world, not made. Wallace, played by Jared Leto, is the token villain of this movie, out to use this secret for his own personal gains. It's unfortunate the little screen time he gets; out of the entire 2 hour and 44 minute run time, he has a grand total of two scenes. The driving force behind our protagonist though, is not necessarily the forces of evil trying to stop him, but the desire for knowledge, so this lack of a compelling villain isn't as bad as one might think.
Soon enough we discover through evidence that seems rock solid, that K himself is this Child. His artificial memories of childhood, that are implanted into every replicant at creation, are actually real. He carries that knowledge with him through the movie, always with a look on his face that suggests he knows more than whoever he's talking to. We as the audience feel that as well, probably having guessed that K, being the protagonist, would end up being the special character in this movie. This is a very brief summary of a very emotional journey for Gosling's character, and we are taken through several exceedingly impressive set pieces as a part of this. Several parts of this movie are just Gosling by himself (or with his holographic, AI girlfriend), and he carries these scenes expertly. Just watching his solitary actions is enough to captivate the audience.
Eventually, K must seek out Deckard (played, obviously, by Harrison Ford). It is over 2 hours into the movie when he shows up for the first time, and you can see every single one of the years has taken it's toll on him. He's old, paranoid, violent, and seemingly uncaring. It's confirmed that he is in fact the father of this child, and that he's been forced to live in seclusion in an abandoned wasteland, never to see his kid, because, as he says, "sometimes to love someone, you have to be a stranger". K comes face to face with the man who may in fact be his father, and their dynamic is great. The scenes with just Ford and Gosling in them feel so good, as new and old clash physically and ideologically. Ford is no Academy Award winning actor, but in this movie he plays Deckard exactly as he should. He is not a hero, or a savior, or a leader. He is a lonely old man who is even more of an ass than he used to be, but still underneath all of those layers, you can see the genuine goodness that he has in him.
Unfortunately before any real answers can come to light, Deckard is kidnapped by the Wallace corporation to be interrogated about his knowledge of the Child, and K is taken in by the replicant resistance movement (which is another kind of weak plot point that seems to exist only as sequel bait). They seek to take the knowledge of the Child public, so that replicants across the solar system will rise up and break their bonds of slavery. It is in this moment that we learn the most important piece of information in this film, and the entire point of this film is made. The Child is in fact, a girl. The resistance knows where the Child is, and it is not K. It's an emotional punch in the gut, as we and K attempt to reconcile what we know with what this woman is saying. "You imagined that it was you", she says sympathetically, as K comes to terms with the fact that he was wrong. The memories in his head are simply, coincidentally, the memories of the Child, implanted into him when he was made. He is not special. He is a run of the mill, mass produced, nobody.
This revelation is the genius of this movie, and what makes this the Blade Runner of our generation. All our lives, we've been told that we're special, that we are different, that we deserve everything we want. But in the end, when faced with reality, this convenient fantasy all comes crumbling down. We, like K, are unremarkable. There is no inherent meaning in our existence, we simply are, just like the other billions of people on the planet. As K walks the streets of Los Angeles, contemplating just how pointless his existence is, that he comes to the decision that reveals the philosophy of this film. Yes, K is a nobody, he is not special in any way. He is just another replicant put in a random job. But K decides that he has the chance to change that. He makes a choice to be more than his unremarkable existence suggests. We, like K, are not made special, we must make ourselves special. It is K's actions, not his mere existence, that makes him the hero of this movie, and it must be our own actions that set us apart from the rest of the world.
So, is Blade Runner 2049 an incredible movie? Yes, by far one of the years bests. Is Blade Runner 2049 a better movie than the original? Technically, yes, it is a much better film than it's predecessor . But, is Blade Runner 2049 a better Blade Runner movie than the original? Only time will tell. The original has almost 4 decades of fan theories and analysis behind it, it's grown to live in the cultural consciousness and influence the way we view the future in so many ways. Only the passing years will show if 2049 has such an impact. But at the very least, it can be agreed upon without a doubt, that is is more than a worthy sequel to one of the most beloved science fiction films of all time.