The original Blade Runner has long been one of my favorite films. I first saw it as the Director’s Cut, on DVD back in the late 90’s. Though it would be years before I finally watched the original theatrical version with the infamous voiceover, the excellent workprint, and my favorite version, the Final Cut, that initial experience blew me away. It was one of those films that didn’t need a sequel, and were one made, there was no way in hell it could live up to the original.
Blade Runner 2049 proves me wrong.
The new film is a work of art. The camera shots, the soundtrack, the acting, the story. There’s not a single weak link in this movie. It drew me in instantly, like sneaking into another person’s dreams. Like these were false memories being imprinted on my own mind, similar to what happens to characters in the Blade Runner universe. It’s that immersive.
The world is even more polluted and toxic than before. In some cases, entire cities have become irradiated. A few animals are seen, but I’m not sure if they are real or of the replicant variety. The dystopian cityscapes are still there, but even larger, more foreboding, and smokier than before. Giant holograms interact with and tease customers in addition to the gigantic billboards covering entire buildings. The population is still pluralistic in its ethnicity, languages, and culture, but mashed together in tighter spaces with less resources. It is future many of us now realize will likely come true. Thirty-five years ago, Blade Runner already knew what Hong Kong, Tokyo, and other cities would look like. BR 2049 gives a glimpse of how that vision is extrapolated, should we continue on the same destructive path. There’s an odd romanticism about such a dystopian world in the first film, but the new movie takes it to its logical conclusion. We are poisoning ourselves and our planet in exchange for fake realities, fake people. And often, those fake people are not the replicants, who desire life so much, but the real humans, who seem so determined to eradicate it.
Ryan Gosling plays a replicant Blade Runner named ‘K’ that knows he’s a replicant. He has to deal with the bigotry of humans (he averts his eyes when approaching other police officers, he’s called a ‘fucking skinjob’, someone wrote ‘fuck you skinner’ on his apartment door), and the loneliness of residing in a polluted, overcrowded metropolis is assuaged only by his holographic companion Joi, who is little more than an A.I. tailored to his personality and tastes. There’s affection between them, which fascinated me—a romance between two manufactured beings that are exploited and hated by their creators.
The opening scene is, for Blade Runner fans, a familiar one if you know anything about the original film’s various scripts. It’s based on an idea Ridley Scott and Hampton Fancher once discussed, of a Blade Runner visiting a desolate grub farm where soup is boiling on the stove. He’s there to retire a replicant. The scene in BR 2049 plays out the same, but this time it’s merely the tip of a very large iceberg. The replicant in question knew Deckard ad Rachael. He hid Rachael’s remains in a buried military locker beneath a nearby tree. The remains show signs that Racheal underwent a caesarian.
That means Deckard and Racheal had a child together.
The ramifications for this are massive, as a replicant revolution is building, and Wallace (a wealthy entrepreneur who bought Tyrell Corporation and is the current manufacturer of safer, more ‘docile’ replicants) wants that child so that he too can create replicants capable of procreation. The theme here, of control over creation, of life, is a strong one. It resonates heavily with the world today, where women’s reproductive rights are legislated by old white men. Politics doesn’t change simply because technology does.
I’m not going to detail the rest of the film’s plot, but suffice to say that it links very well with the original movie. There are visual and thematic callbacks to the 1982 classic that fans will recognize. Harrison Ford, though only appearing in the last third of the film, gives a nuanced performance. When he tears up upon hearing a recording of Rachael’s voice, then sees a clone of her—those moments alone are worth the price of admission. The ending is a beautiful one, but it leaves the plot wide open for another sequel. I’m not complaining—there’s so much more to tell and show in this universe, and if future films match the quality of BR 2049, I’m in.
The closing shot of K lying in the snow, seriously injured, while the Tears in Rain theme from the 1982 film plays, is perfect. I don’t think K dies, but it’s still a great way to end the film.
BR 2049’s music is epic, subtle, and overpowering at exactly the right moments. It practically scorches its way into the psyche while the images on the screen do the same. A wall of sound that underscores how small one is in the presence of towering structures on a dying world. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch have huge shoes to fill, as Vangelis’s music from the original film is one of cinema’s most gorgeous scores. They manage to do so. This new soundtrack is edgier, darker, but also laced with the same poignant melancholy. I already know I’ll be listening to it for years, just like the first one.
The action scenes are brutal but quick. Luv, played by Sylvia Hoeks, is a chillingly murderous replicant that is also hunting the child of Deckard and Rachael. Like Roy Batty, though, she’s a complex villain. The fight scene between her and K during the finale is great. I mention this because the early previews focused on action scenes, and I was worried BR 2049 would be just another dumb science fiction action flick. Thank goodness I’m proven wrong again.
I have one minor complaint: the offworld colonies aren’t shown. Like, at all. They’re mentioned, but since the replicant revolution doesn’t take place in BR 2049, I’m assuming that any future sequels will show these colonies and how replicants are used there. I loved those elements from the first film, even though they were implied rather than shown. But this movie is brilliant enough that my complaint doesn’t detract form it in the slightest.
Philip K. Dick would’ve loved this film. It plays with memories and reality the way he did in his fiction. Though he didn’t write BR 2049, I’m still reminded at how much PKD realized about human nature, and how that still influences science fiction today.
Just like the original film, BR 2049 asks questions we as a civilization—as a species—still cannot or will not answer. What rights do the created have? What constitutes a being or entity as human? Will we make the same mistakes from our past regarding slavery, abetting bondage in the name of ‘progress’? If something can feel, can hurt—can love—does it deserve the same rights, the same chance to live, as you and me?
Who is the real monster—the one created by society, or the society that created it?
Blade Runner 2049 asks this and more. It is a fever dream, showing us that despite our ignorance, greed, and the horrors created by them, we can still make something beautiful.