I am not the biggest fan of the original Blade Runner. I like it just fine, but it always felt standoffish and cold to me. Maybe it is because I am most familiar with the theatrical cut. At least I think that is the cut that I watched occasionally on VHS decades ago. I have seen at least two different versions of it. It is stark and moody and beautiful, but I could never connect with it. While Blade Runner 2049 shares a lot of qualities with the original, I didn’t have that problem here.
Blade Runner 2049 eschews ambiguity about whether its protagonists is a replicant, and artificially created person, (I don’t think Deckard is) telling the viewer right at the start that Ryan Gosling’s K is one. After successfully hunting down an older model, he stumbles upon a discovery that has the potential to completely disrupt society. This sets off an investigation that largely plays out like a noir mystery. Trying not to spoil anything, K must deal with his boss with the police, his companion Joi, mysterious CEO Niander Wallace and his associate Luv and finally Deckard from the original movie as he tries to get to the bottom of things. It is hard to really dig into this movie without spoiling everything. I am not usually a big stickler for spoilers, but this is a mystery. SO there will be mild spoilers ahead, but I will endeavor to not ruin things outside the basic premise.
It does deal with the idea of what makes us human. Our protagonist K is a replicant, and he believes he is not a person. He puts up a persona of being cold and emotionless. A later revelation causes him to question that, and he becomes much more emotional and expressive. By the end, he has shown his humanity no matter what he learns about his creation. That is contrasted with Luv, another replicant who never seems to question her birth and purpose. No matter what she does or what she sees, she robotically follows her orders. Then there is Joi, an AI program designed to tell its owner exactly what they want to hear. She gives K exactly what he wants; turning his barren apartment into a home and telling him he is special, even giving him another name, Joe. But is she doing anything more than what her programming tells her to do? An encounter with another version maybe answers the question, but I don’t think that answer is definitive. Then there is also the inhumanity of many of the human characters, like [boss] and Wallace, who coldly want to, or do, dispatch with replicants because they do not see them as human. It makes things a little more clear as to what each character is, and then muddies it up with how to look at them.
It is also an utterly gorgeous movie, taking place in a largely ugly setting. The earth of 2049 is a dying place, with irradiated desert reclaiming Las Vegas and San Diego turned into a giant dump and Los Angeles managing to seem both overcrowded and empty. The costuming is amazing; there are tons of memorable shots. The music is good, if a little modern blockbuster-y. It is just a truly well-made film.
I’m not trying to hide the ball here, I loved Blade Runner 2049. It isn’t a copy of the original; it takes its themes and builds on them. I think it surpasses the original. It is a little messy, there are plot threads that don’t really go anywhere and lots of questions left unanswered, but those mostly worked to make the movie feel alive for me. This world is bigger than just the story of this movie, those story threads are not to be dealt with here. Not really sequel hooks, just other events that are also happening. Everything about this movie works for me.