Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner defined the genre of neo-noir science fiction, creating a fully realized cinematic world filled with gritty futuristic technology where almost-too-human androids, known as replicants, were hunted down by a subset of cops known as Blade Runners.
Although anticipation for Blade Runner 2049 was high—director Denis Villeneuve staked solid claim on the genre with last year’s science fiction blockbuster Arrival, not to mention Ridley Scott’s involvement as executive producer and Hampton Fancher’s return as co-writer of the screenplay—fans of the original couldn’t help but fear 2049 would amount to being little more than a replicant itself, taking on the world of the original but missing all the heart.
Blade Runner 2049 drops us into the same dusty, neon-lit, flying car filled Los Angeles where the prior film left off. Now thirty years further into the future, the world has seen the catastrophic effects of global warming: snow is a permanent fixture of the landscape, real wood is traded on the black market, and humans are left to survive off protein harvested from maggot farms that surround the city. Agent K (Ryan Gosling at his best) is a new-breed Blade Runner, a replicant with complacency upgrades, who is tasked with hunting down an individual whose very existence his lieutenant boss (Robin Wright) believes could “break the world.” And she may be right.
It doesn’t take long for the secret mission to leak and soon multiple characters join in the chase, including the former Tyrell Corporation’s new evil visionary (a slightly too-kitschy Jared Leto) and his replicant assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). When Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) finally returns to the screen, Agent K’s task is dense with cosmic existential weight.
Over the course of the film’s near three hours—which fly by—cinematographer Roger Deakins’ dystopian cityscapes and Hans Zimmer’s pounding score push the viewer to a state of near sublimity. Gosling’s restrained, and yet deeply moving performance as Agent K is both tragic and touching. The film picks up the task of its forbearer as it grapples with the theme of what it means to be human, more than filling its predecessor’s shoes and forging its own path towards cinematic greatness.
In one particularly memorable scene, Agent K’s digital girlfriend (Ana de Armas) enlists a replicant hooker to bring a physicality to her relationship that she is unable to give herself. As we watch this mind-bending threesome unfold—which took over a year to produce and layer with digital effects—we see the ways in which reality is malleable and how emotion can be found and harvested in the strangest places. Let’s hope we do not have to wait another thirty years to return to this world.