We live in an age where it is becoming increasingly common to dismiss sequels from the moment they are announced. More often the than not there is good reason for the distain. Time and time again studios assume that they can recapture the magic of an existing property by repackaging the same item they sold to audiences 30 years earlier.
Blade Runner 2049 is one of the rare exceptions that bucks this trend. Director Denis Villeneuve understands the weight of expectations, and reservations, that fans of Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner had. Rather than try to simply recreate Scott’s vision, Villeneuve takes the franchise in a bold new direction. He crafts a film that not only feels refreshingly unique, but can function as its own standalone story despite having numerous ties to the past.
Villeneuve constructs a picture of the future that is visually stunning, but also grounded in the biases that fill our society today. Set 30 years after the original story, the Tyrell Corporation is no more, but their replicant technology – bioengineered humans designed for slave labour –is now in the hands of tech giant Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Wallace’s has amassed a fortune via his new breed of replicants obey instructions without question, an important trait that Tyrell’s models failed to do.
When K (Ryan Gosling), an LAPD Blade Runner, is assigned by Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) to track down an old rogue replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), he inadvertently stumbles across the skeletal remains of a female replicant who appears to have defied nature and given birth. Attempting to uncover how such an event is possible, and with both the police force and Wallace’s loyal servant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) wanting him to find the child for different reasons, K soon starts questioning what it truly means to be human.
Much like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 takes place in a future where Los Angeles is densely populated, racism (albeit towards replicant) is blatant and Asian culture has been appropriated as a marketing tool to sell sex. Take away the post-apocalyptic environment, where desolate landscapes feature broken statutes of sex goddesses, and you pretty much have society as we know it today.
The film’s approach to the themes of race and gender, outside of Luv and Joshi most of the female characters, take K’s companion Joi (Ana de Armas) for example, are objects of desire, are problematic at times. However, Blade Runner 2049 succeeds in offering a far deeper and engaging experience than its predecessor.
Contemplating the nature of humanity, and the societal prejudices that we refuse to properly address, Villeneuve constructs a film that is both thrilling and meditative. The masterful visuals by cinematographer Roger Deakins and the outstanding sound design, which feels like a character in itself, add a rich texture to the overall narrative. The film may run close to three hours, it is a completely absorbing experience.
All of this makes for a magnetic film that captures the essence of Scott’s classic while fully embracing Villeneuve’s own unique vision.