To be born is to have a soul.
If Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner forecasted the culmination of humanity, then 2049 seeks its resurrection, spending the entirety of its 163-minute runtime devoted to what it means to be human. The line between the replicant species – robots bioengineered for slave labor – and their creators is quickly fading, as their emotional and physical variances have nearly reached a plateau.
Replicants are no longer outlawed on Earth; they walk among the people, work jobs, and sleep under the same roofs. Their lives are not devoid of discrimination (derogatory terms such as “skin job,” “skinners,” and “skin head” are thrown around by neighbors, coworkers, and strangers), but their legal place within society has been established.
With that said, there are still blade runners – those whose job it is to track down and “retire” replicants – but their targets consist primarily of the few rogue remains of the Tyrell Corporation’s Nexus 8 models. K (Ryan Gosling) is one of the officers; incongruously, he too is a replicant, a newer architype designed by the Wallace Corporation.
Placed thirty years after the events of the first film, 2049 manages to create a setting even more apocalyptic and chaotic than the original. A nuclear blackout has since occurred between the stories, extinguishing nearly all electronic data and bankrupting Tyrell. Now, there is only filth, as entire cities serve host to an array of metal scraps and scum, and the teeming streets are just as fetid. It is here that cinematographer Roger Deakins goes to play with what may be his best work since No Country for Old Men, and what should easily be a direct path towards his first Oscar win.
On all accounts, 2049 is as immaculate a viewing experience as there is. Deserted sculptures the size of Ozymandias atop sand-drenched highways, three-dimensional advertisements of neon glow, and groggy farm homes deprived of crops collaborate with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve to form pictures as pristine as air. A film like this, which relies so heavily on CGI, must be perfect in its execution of the real image in order to transcend the barrier of implausibility. 2049 does so and it is a marvel, taunting audiences with visual treats as vivid and beautiful as Rutger Hauer’s moments lost in time.
The dissimilarities between the old and the new on display here rebirth the drowning concept of long-period sequels. Hampton Fancher and Michael Green’s screenplay is a pioneer in its capability to stand without the crutch of its predecessor; and after the evident unoriginality of The Force Awakens, this is exactly what the genre needed.
Yes, both plots revolve around the actions of a blade runner, but now the switch between Rick Deckard – a man – and K – a replicant – makes the machine’s longing for humanity much more romantic, prominent, and intimate.
No matter how similar his biological blueprint is to that of a human’s natural one, K is envious. When he addresses these jealousies to his Lieutenant (Robin Wright), she calmly reminds him that he has done just fine without a soul. But does K have a soul? His holographic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas) certainly thinks so, and as the journey grows increasingly personal for K, his emotional range expands remarkably.
The catalyst for such a change of character reveals itself during a mission in which the roots to a buried secret are dug up, a secret that has the potential to throw the few remaining fragments of society into chaos. Whereas K is sent out by the LAPD to prevent this catastrophe, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), a ferociously powerful replicant, is deployed by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to start the fire.
The journey – like the first one – is slow, deliberate, and well thought out, spending most of its time on drawing questions out of the audience than making an action-filled juggernaut.
However, the film is not without faults: there is an unneeded cameo appearance that feels more like a crowd pleaser than a plot point, and Leto’s Wallace (a man who speaks at people, not to them) comes off as egocentric, dragging any scene he is a part of with force-fed monologues. Perhaps the problem is that he didn’t write them himself…
Harrison Ford made his much anticipated return as Deckard, but don’t think he is going through the motions here like he did with some of his other classic roles. No, here is some of Ford’s best work, perhaps maybe his best work; Deckard’s unforeseen situation forces the veteran star to act in ways we’ve never really seen before. And Ryan Gosling, just coming out of the La La Land craze, has reincarnated his collected badass persona from Drive into this role, and it is a perfect fit.
What is likely most satisfying about this entire experience is its execution of creating a fresh story within a hoary world, creating a sequel to a movie everyone thought was untouchable. But fortunately, the two work hand in hand with one another, forming as perfect a companionship as two films can possibly attain.