I have a confession to make: I never really liked the original Blade Runner that much. I've seen it at least four times, in all its various cuts. It's an incredible-looking film: every single shot is perfectly lit and framed, every bit of the production design is awesome. For 1982, it was way ahead of its time, and I don't say that often. But between its bursts of disturbing violence there's a whole lot of nothing: minimal plot, lifeless scenes that go on forever, and a romance that never convinced me, due to the lack of chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Young.
Nevertheless, Blade Runner is part of the cinematic lexicon, and Denis Villeneuve, taking over the director's seat (Ridley Scott is credited as executive producer), is a great filmmaker. I was curious to see what he did with the material.
I think Blade Runner 2049 gives fans what they want. It feels very much an extension of Scott's film, thirty years on. The score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer owes a lot to Vangelis, except it's even more immersive. Roger Deakins's cinematography is phenomenal as usual. Production design by Dennis Gassner is impeccable. And lo and behold: there's more actual story.
Blade Runner's ambiguity over whether its titular Replicant (a.k.a. android) hunter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was himself a Replicant engendered 35 years of debate. The sequel, in contrast, takes no time in clarifying that its new Blade Runner, "K" (Ryan Gosling), isn't merely a Replicant but an upgrade, in that he is both cognizant of his android nature and has been programmed to be obedient. His job is to track down the remaining rogue Replicants of yore, who were never programmed with such obedience, and "retire" them. His hunt becomes a detective story when it's suggested that a long-dead Replicant achieved the impossible: she gave birth.
More than its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 further explores the meaning behind Philip K. Dick's source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Whereas Scott's film was about little more than a handful of Replicants wanting to outlive their expiration date, now that they know what it's like to live, Villeneuve's followup creates a whole society of self-aware Replicants, forging their own kind of humanity. "K" has a holographic girlfriend (Ana de Armas) whom only he can see because her software connects with his. There's a real sadness to their situation – it's a thoughtful reflection of our own technology-saturated isolation. This theme is ultimately cast aside, unfortunately, once "K" finally crosses paths with an aged Deckard, almost an hour and a half into the film, and the action kicks into high gear.
Blade Runner 2049 isn't perfect. It's overlong and a few plot points flew over my head. It doesn't live up to its emotional potential. But it is astounding to look at and to listen to, and it has a lot of fascinating ideas. No matter how you felt about the original Blade Runner, this is a worthy successor.