Visionary “Blade Runner 2049” successfully expands on its predecessor’s ideas

Charles Liu

Science fiction and noir blend together once again in this incredible sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, “Blade Runner.” With Scott’s blessing, Denis Villeneuve carries forth a classic sci-fi world, its characters and its themes into “Blade Runner 2049,” shaping an emotional, thought-provoking tale of man and machine that filmgoers didn’t know they needed. 

Though the films chronologically take place 30 years apart, not much has visually changed between the world of the first “Blade Runner” and that of “2049.” The sequel’s dark, ambient cityscapes with neon lights and flying cars will provide comfort to old fans while amazing the new. The special effects are powerfully realized and a joy to analyze, sure to make viewers wish for a pause button to help spot all the details sprinkled throughout the picture. Cinematographer Roger Deakins perfectly captures the glorious and monumental scope of Scott and Villeneuve’s vision of a high-tech future, and it is best seen in IMAX, for which “Blade Runner 2049” is specially formatted.

Of course, the replicants — lifelike androids engineered to be mankind’s slaves — also return to ask the film’s central philosophical question: What does it mean to be human? The line between man and machine continues to blur in “2049.” Unfortunately, there is no time to mull over this conundrum for the titular blade runners, who “retire” rogue replicants with bullets. 

Our conduit into this unforgiving setting, K (Ryan Gosling), is an LAPD blade runner who we first meet eliminating his target, Sapper Morton (David Bautista). Before dying, Sapper laments to him, “You’ve never seen a miracle.” 

A replicant himself, K is unmoved by these words. He’s monotone and efficient. His strongest personality trait is his steely glare — at least, until he gets cozy with Joi (Ana de Armas), his holographic girlfriend who is one of many produced for lonely men. While K’s affections appear authentic, it’s unclear whether Joi’s reciprocation for K’s love is genuine or simply her programming directive. Could it be both?

It seems K doesn’t appreciate that he, like all other replicants, is a miracle. When he catches wind of earth-shattering revelations that could change the future for replicants as a species, K descends into a labyrinthine web of lies that calls into question the very nature of his identity, and his stoic demeanor gradually unravels.

Due to its weightier themes and more expansive plot, “2049” is more epic than its predecessor, which was a startlingly intimate affair set in an oppressive dystopian world. Yet, it is also constantly in conversation with the original, drawing upon old ideas to inform new ones. For example, Gaff’s origami unicorn gets a spiritual successor in a wooden horse. “2049” works in tandem with the first film, and both pictures end up elevating each other.

Gosling is stellar as the leading man, carrying a strong and enigmatic presence that greatly serves the mystery behind his origin. de Armas is affecting as Joi, imbuing her with a lovely innocence that makes you forget that her coding is in binary instead of DNA. Other members of the cast, including Jared Leto as a villainous replicant manufacturer and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a Terminator-esque replicant assassin, superbly contribute to the drama.

Amid this wonderful ensemble, Harrison Ford reprises his role of Rick Deckard and doesn’t waste a second of his performance. Deckard is a grumpy, weary old man who has left behind his broken world. It’s up to K to help him finally become whole again. In a similar vein, “2049” picks up the pieces left behind by “‘Blade Runner” and gives us catharsis.