We all knew this was coming. Given Hollywood’s seemingly endless preoccupation with reboots, remakes, sequels, etc. over the last decade and a half (at least much moreso now than any other period of time in film history), it’s no surprise that Blade Runner would eventually be given some sort of newer addition to the legacy, especially considering its increasingly revered status as a science fiction classic, thanks in no small part to the parade of Director’s Cuts and Final Cuts that Ridley Scott has been fooling around with ever since the film’s initial release back in 1982.
Fast forward to 2017 where a much belated (if completely unnecessary) sequel has finally made it into theaters, helmed by one of the most interesting filmmakers to emerge as a major player this decade in Denis Villenueve, with the participation of Harrison Ford reprising his role from the first film, and also having Ridley Scott in a producing role, which is perhaps for the best considering how poorly Scott’s recent return to the Alien franchise fared earlier this year. The resulting film herein being Blade Runner 2049, a flawed yet ultimately satisfying continuation of the Blade Runner franchise, which I guess now is officially a thing. Huh.
To keep plot points and details to a minimum, I’ll just go over the basics to start with: Blade Runner 2049 centers on Ryan Gosling in the leading role this time around, as a titular “Blade Runner”, whose job it is to “retire” (read: kill) any replicants (synthetically born humans, bred for the sole purpose of slave labor) still hanging out from the 2019-era of the first film. When given his next assignment, Gosling’s futuristic bounty hunter is suddenly thrust into a case that’s – surprise, surprise – much bigger and more far-reaching than he or the audience was expecting. Soon, Gosling’s officer, know only as K, finds himself embarking on journey of self-discovery that leads him to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard from the first film. As far as the thematic links between Blade Runner 2049 and its predecessor go, the central questions of morality and humanity from the first one are largely kept intact here, which helps tonally link the two films together, instead of this one seeming like a pale imitation of the ideas and narrative threads brought up in the original.
Among the many influences the 1982 Blade Runner had on the science fiction genre, one of its biggest was in regards to the design and art direction of any potential future landscapes and settings. In that respect, Blade Runner 2049 certainly had a lot to live up to, and on that front it definitely does not disappoint. In a very wise move, the aesthetic of 2049 doesn’t try to copy or… replicate (awwwww yeah!) the exact look or feel of the original film. Instead, it updates it for our more modern sensibilities, both in terms of the glossy design of the city-scapes and in terms of the technological advances that have occurred since 1982. What we’re seeing isn’t a faithful, nostalgia-driven recreation of everything we’ve already seen before, as well as dozens of pale imitators since then but rather the logical continuation of what was presented to us beforehand, and a carefully thought-out update, making it more believable that this is what the world shown to us in the original Blade Runner would conceivable look like thirty years after we last left it.
With all the good that’s here, it falls into another trap many recent studio offerings had found themselves in: Sony gonna Sony… again. While the case of obvious studio meddling isn’t as blatant or egregious here as it’s been with other Sony produced films of past years, there’s still a number of moments where it’s extremely noticeable and bothersome. To say nothing of the usual parade of product placement that in this case is at least fairly well hidden and doesn’t much call attention to itself, a lot of the action or attempts at excitement here feel unusually out of place and forced in. While of course a certain level of action and chasing is to be expected in a multi-million dollar spectacle film from two major Hollywood studios, some of the action beats feel like an afterthought; just added in during a latter pass on the script in order to add some punches and explosions to make the trailer seem more exciting to the average moviegoer who has no idea what Blade Runner even is.
These included setpieces like a brief shootout in a junkyard that’s quickly cut short by missile fire, as well as a prolonged fistfight between Gosling and Ford during their first meeting. Scenes like these just come and go with so little impact on the story or characters that the constant breaks in the narrative just to deliver these sequences don’t feel entirely justified, and probably could’ve been cut short to tighten up the runtime a bit without impacting the overall flow of the film much at all. Also worth mentioning is the surprisingly rushed and underwhelming climax of the film, though I at least give the creative minds at play here some credit for not trying to recreate or outdo the magic of the iconic “tears in rain” finale from the original film.
Overall Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy companion piece to the original. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, how could we possibly expect it to do so? The first one revolutionized the aesthetic of mainstream science fiction for decades to come, so the best we could hope out of any follow-up would be that it add something new to the mythos without copying from the original too much, and that’s thankfully what we got here. While not an instant game changer in the way the first was, 2049 is a damn good piece of modern sci-fi that holds up well enough on its own and doesn’t detract much, if at all from the beloved cult classic is hails from.