In our world of countless sequels, remakes and every production company trying to create yet another movie universe, Blade Runner 2049 stands alone.
It gives audiences a solid sequel that explores the “what ifs” of the first Blade Runner film yet still expertly touches its larger, ever-present questions about what truly makes us human.
Blade Runner 2049 takes place about 30 years after the events of the first movie, which starred a much younger Harrison Ford as Detective Rick Deckard. (If you haven’t taken a moment to watch the original or read a plot summary on Wikipedia, please do so.)
In this dark, dystopian future, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, a bounty-hunter type that hunts down old replicants (bioengineered androids created for slave labor) that have lived past their programmed lifetime and “retires” them.
K, a replicant himself, is tasked to find and retire an older replicant model (Dave Bautista) who is in hiding on his farm. After killing him, K soon finds himself on the hunt for something that could “break the world,” which forces him to confront his own past, discover the truth behind an important memory and try to answer the question: what makes a human… human.
This almost three-hour movie artfully uses larger-than-life visual storytelling and sound design to evoke feelings of awe, fear, doubt and sadness during crucial scenes – the heightened sense of urgency as K reaches for a childhood token; K coming across a giant hologram that reminds him of what he’s lost; K standing in an open desert on the precipice of understanding his own humanity. Simple descriptions don’t do these scenes justice.
2049’s slower pace is also extremely refreshing. So many movies, including ones in modern sci-fi, rely too much on action to keep audiences interested. Classic sci-fi films tend to encourage audiences to wrestle and think about the bigger questions.
But the true star of the film is Ryan Gosling as “K.” Easily the best performance of his career, Gosling brings a vulnerability to the screen that makes you feel his fear, confusion and joy as his character experiences it. He doesn’t overdo the emotions but hits it right on the mark.
While some reviewers say that 2049 lacks substance and depth compared to the first movie, I argue that we see that depth within K himself. We’re inserted directly into his journey of self-discovery, which drives the film forward. You’re right there alongside him, rooting for him, wanting him to find the truth and make his own decisions… to eventually become human.
It’s what he’s faced with and his humanness in these moments that make it heartfelt and not just another hero saving the world. Without K, there is no story.
But, what BR 2049 has in its stunning visuals, sound design, magical storytelling and strong characters, it lacks in clarity.
To fully understand all that happens, you need to watch the 1982 movie. The dynamic between humans and replicants, the importance of Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael (Sean Young), and why replicants were created in the first place are all significant. This first-hand knowledge helps you have a stronger connection to the story.
Also, at some points, supporting characters seem to only behave a certain way in order to move the plot forward, which takes away from the story’s believability. It’s not a huge distraction and doesn’t derail the story, but could’ve been handled better in my opinion.
In the end, even though there wasn’t enough Harrison Ford in this film (I love him, what can I say?), Blade Runner 2049 will likely earn its place as a cult favorite even if it has a poor showing at the box office – just as its predecessor did.
I’ve already set aside a spot in my movie collection.