Blade Runner 2049, as the title suggests, takes place thirty years after the events of the 1982 film. Opening text explains where we are: artificial humans known as Replicants rebelled against the social order but were crushed, later to be replaced by a more docile, controllable version created by the Wallace Corporation. Special police officers known as Blade Runners hunt down the remaining rogue Replicants. The story begins with Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) on a mission where he stumbles onto a much greater mystery that has him tracking down the participants in an impossible event that took place decades prior.This sequel expands on the original in rather interesting ways. Like the first, it is essentially a detective story dressed up in sci-fi elements, following a future gumshoe in a dystopian Los Angeles as he unravels a mystery that brings up questions about what is real and what it means to be human. And like the original, this film mostly lets the plot be a facilitator for exploring the world that it has built. The difference is that the world is much bigger this time, and this film is even more willing to linger in its curious little corners, luxuriating in the pure visual splendor of this dystopian future world.K walks slowly in almost every scene he’s in. It is a function of the character being cautious as he walks into dangerous situations, but it also sets the pace for the film. It walks slowly and methodically, giving time to take in the surroundings. It offers space for fairly lengthy conversations that overtly address the themes of the story. The dialogue can feel clunky at points, with characters spouting odd turns of expository phrase in pursuit of expressing these heady ideas. But they still serve to add intriguing layers to the central philosophical dilemma inherent to the setting.
And so, the plot is designed mainly to bring K to one strange, interesting place after another, revealing new horrors and wonders alike. A woman in isolation designs dreams for robots. Children forced to work in an orphanage in the middle of a massive scrapyard. The remnants of a once-alive city, now covered in a deadly orange haze. The film boasts a level of design that more than lives up to the reputations of the original, which turned out to be one of the most influential films of all time. It mitigates the effects of its lengthy runtime through its sheer ability to show the audience things they haven’t quite seen before. Director of Photography Roger Deakins is doing the best work of his lengthy, storied career. And that’s really saying a lot.The film exhibits skill and directorial aplomb in its less flashy moments as well. The direction is often elegant, the film’s procedural elements coming to life thanks to the calm, assured staging. Take note of a very simple scene early on where K revisits the scene of a crime, and notices something new. It is a small scene made up of as few shots as possible, perfectly timed to convey a feeling that goes beyond the plain facts of the scene. Ryan Gosling turns out to be a key part of what makes this film work, though. The actor, who has always shown a capacity for being a little alien, is used to great effect in this film. The very questions that the film seeks to answer play out on Gosling’s face.On a visual level alone, Blade Runner 2049 would be worth recommending. The film just puts together so many powerful and memorable images in its lengthy runtime, and it offers the space to take it all in properly. That the film actually works on a narrative level almost seems secondary. The script can be clunky at times, but it manages to find clever ways to tie into the past while still being its own thing, adding intriguing layers to what’s come before, digging deeper into a vision of the future where the very nature of humanity is put into question.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE