35 years ago, Ridley Scott released Blade Runner, a film that eventually marked a major spot in film history, even though its future did not seem bright back in 1982 – the futuristic, neo-noir sci-fi film flopped on all levels and found itself drowned in harsh criticism that was only dispelled a decade later, with the director’s Final Cut (2007) of the original feature. It has since been referred to as one of the core classics of sci-fi cinema and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood, which now seems to be perpetually occupied with churning out sequels upon trequels upon sidequels and any other -quels you can come up with, would set its eyes on the possibilities, hidden in the ‘grimscapes’ of the original Blade Runner.
With a timeline that quite faithfully follows the passing of time since the original, we found ourselves back in the Phillip K. Dick-based dystopian world, where Coca-Cola is still a thing even in 2049. After a series of events (some of them are helpfully shown in three shorts that accompanied the release of Blade Runner 2049), the bioengineered humans – replicants – have become a part of society, working mostly as modern-day slaves of all kinds. The fate of a Nexus-9 replicant KD6-3.7, or “K” (Ryan Gosling), is the same as that of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in the original movie – he works as a “blade runner”, an LAPD agent tasked with hunting down rogue replicants. Outside of work, he lives a seemingly ‘normal’ life, with his A.I. girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), who is a hologram.
During a mission where “K” retires a rogue Nexus-8 series replicant, he stumbles upon something that will change his entire world: a box of remains of a female Nexus-7 replicant who appears to have died in childbirth. Since the biological line between humans and replicans is set firmly at the replicants’ inability to reproduce, his discovery makes immediate waves. His superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) tries to keep a lid on the situation to prevent an all-out human-replicant war – she orders “K” to find and “retire” the replicant child, but “K”‘s own existence seems to be tied to the child in more ways than one. Add to that the meddling owner of Wallace Corporation, which replaced Tyrell Corporation as the leading manufacturer of replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his replicant second hand, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), who have their own agenda, and the events find themselves on a thoughtfully timed fast-forward.
There were so many ways that Villeneuve and his team could have approached the sequel, and it is beyond surprising how the final product overreached even the wildest expectations. May it be the involvement of one of the writers of the original feature, Hampton Fancher, or just the pure genius that Villeneuve seems to possess when it comes to sci-fi, or the fact that the digital technology is now finally advanced enough to support the portrayal of this dystopian world – Blade Runner 2049 managed to hit the exact chords that the original failed to bat at its first strike.
From the very first scene of the film, we get pulled into the world with countless technical threads that managed to retain that 1980’s feel while upgrading it to fit the level we expect in the 2010s. The original music score by Vangelis has been adapted and enriched by the masterful notes of Hans Zimmer and Michael Green, and the visuals of the film are nothing short of breathtaking, while still staying brilliantly faithful to the original in terms of pacing and editing. However, this time we get to see even more of the Blade Runner‘s world, and while the original makes the viewer respectful of the depicted realities and its prophetic qualities, Blade Runner 2049 makes us curious to see even more of the world that gets unwrapped on the silver screen, sequence by sequence. And these are just the technical aspects of the film.
The narrative joins both films at the hip in a smooth way, smartly inserting numerous Easter eggs and bringing back minor (Gaff!) and major characters, while propelling their story forward alongside new characters, filling in some blanks along the way and adding to previous mysteries (with all due respect to those who disagree, the question of Deckard’s humanity is best left unanswered), all in such a way that from now on, it will be impossible to consider the original without its sequel. Cast-wise (and even though this might have been stated elsewhere, it deserves to be stated again), Ryan Gosling’s performance might just be his best ever, and Harrison Ford gave us all a dramatic reminder that he still has all that it takes. The entire cast came through to ensure that we got pulled in even further and cemented the fact that in every possible way, Blade Runner is an overachiever in the world of sequels.
It needs to be said that this film, just like its predecessor, does not fall in the box with your usual sci-fi. It is not an action movie with flying spaceships, explosions and aliens, even though there have been hints of this world coexisting with that of the Alien series, and even though basically all of those elements are present. Both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 took on the very questions of our existence, of what it means to be human, but instead of exploring it through a trench conversation between soldiers in a war movie, they explore it through beings that live in a dystopian world. This is perhaps the reason why Blade Runner 2049, even if we all rave about it, tanked at the general box office. It is still a blockbuster, no doubt about it, but as a fellow viewer pointed out, this is adult, mature sci-fi. It is designed to make you think and ask yourself the difficult questions, and for most viewers, it is not the escape from reality that they crave/expect when they sit down at a movie theater. Instead, it is a mirror to a different, but not impossible reality and/or possible, truly grim future, with implied harsh criticism of contemporary mentality that seems to have changed little since the 1980’s. Whether you take it – or leave it – is at your own discretion as a viewer, but the brilliance of Blade Runner 2049‘s composition cannot be questioned.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © 2017 Alcon Entertainment, LLC.