No, you didn’t somehow overlook two thousand and forty-seven sequels to 1982’s Blade Runner. Blade Runner 2049 just takes place thirty years after its forerunner, which was set in 2019. If this were a gospel story, that would mean the events in Blade Runner 2049 are the prologue to the moment when a voice emerges from the wilderness crying, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Yes, the replicants are looking for a messiah and the new way to be more than human that he, or she, will portend.
If there was ever a movie that longed for a sequel, it’s Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s landmark science-fiction noir changed the way we look at science-fiction films, quite literally. The production design of that 1982 film still determines what our future cityscapes look like on-screen today. But as beautiful as it is, Blade Runner fumbles its plot. It does not make sense, and your heart is kinder than mine if you actually care about the characters.
Your relative adoration of the film most likely depends on how many late night discussions it has prompted about who’s the what when, if it’s possible for a human-created entity to ever surpass humanity, whether humanity would let that happen or not, and what any of that means for us in the real world. Blade Runner casts a spell that lingers long after you leave the theater, a fog of questions the film doesn’t answer, but the questions are more interesting than the film itself. (Never mind the many versions of the film that only complicate matters further.)
Blade Runner 2049, wisely, sustains the graces of the first film while correcting its narrative mistakes. This new film is as moody, as mysterious, as magnificent to look at as the old film, but it also tells a coherent, compelling story. This is still sci-fi noir, so throughout you never really know if a thread you are following along with the protagonist, a known replicant called ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling, who apparently had a breakdown in Chinatown on his way outta La La Land), is going to lead anywhere or not. Scenes feel superfluous, clues, coincidental, but then forgotten things begin to matter in unexpected ways, clues click, and you start to feel an possibly insidious determinism overshadowing it all, and that’s when the paranoia sets in. That’s exactly how a noir is supposed to feel. Blade Runner begged you to seek answers. Blade Runner 2049 invites you to let go and enjoy it, whether yours is a replicated cognizance or not. The film is two hours and forty-four minutes long. Some of it feels interminable, other parts feel too quick, but hey that’s life. Ain’t it grand?
Blade Runner 2049 even pushes questions about the rights and worth of artificial intelligence a step further by including a new kind of being in the Blade Runner universe. K has a live-in holographic love interest named “Joi” (Ana de Armas). A few moments in their relationship may smack of Her, but the wrinkle she gives to the replicant’s life is interesting. Blade Runner has always been concerned with how humans treat androids; what if there’s a “lower” form of intelligence for replicants to boss around? Joi’s presence evolves questions of rights into concerns about care. It’s not the ability to dominate that determines value. Rather, it’s how considerate one is toward those who depend upon him or her that gives a life worth.
Blade Runner 2049 is replete with biblical allusions. Ridley Scott didn’t direct this film—Denis Villeneuve did, and it’s his most confident film yet; the only one I’m all in on—but it’s of a piece with his latest science-fiction films, especially Alien: Covenant. That film, like Blade Runner 2049, was written by Michael Green, so maybe that’s where the biblical stuff comes from. (Hampton Fancher, who wrote the original Blade Runner, is also credited with writing Blade Runner 2049.) Whatever the source, the way it’s used is the same. Adopting the shape of the biblical, messianic narrative imbues the movie’s story with numinous meaning. The Blade Runner universe is big—“C beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate” and all that—and these particular people and androids are small, but what they do has epochal ramifications. The import ends there, I think, unless they opt to make Blade Runner 2050, I suppose. If they do, I’ll be first in line.