Okay, a few things to get out of the way: I have seen the original Blade Runner, but it was a long time ago and I don’t remember much of it. That might have helped some while watching Blade Runner 2049, the long-simmering sequel, which is all about replicants, bio-engineered beings that resemble humans in almost all ways but are not, though in what ways we really don’t know.
There’s a title card that tells us that replicants in the year 2049 are new and improved, and always obey (this is sort of like Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot). The older models, the ones who did not obey, are hunted down by blade runners. One of them is Ryan Gosling, and he’s a replicant. The opening scene has him “retiring” an old model, then finding another one buried on the property.
It turns out this replicant had a baby. In the world of this film, it is earth-shaking news that replicants might be able to breed. The head of the company that makes them, a weird cat played by Jared Leto, wants this baby, who would now be about 28 years old, found, so he can figure out how it was done. Gosling, working for the police, is also assigned to find it. So we get a classic noir tale, as Gosling follows clues wearing a knee-length trench coat and a day’s stubble (replicants can grow facial hair, I guess) to figure out who that baby is grown up to be.
Though the film is structured as a noir, of course it is also science fiction. Turns out we have flying cars in 2049, and I hope I live long enough to get one. Of course, the world is a bleak place. The cities are still like the original film, with huge advertisements and holograms (one of them is for prostitution and is naked about fifty feet tall). For companionship you can have a hologram for a partner, as Gosling does (Ana de Armas), who he can talk to, but physical contact is tough.
Leto’s assistant (Sylvia Hoeks), also a replicant, is the bad-ass who is chasing down the baby and creating mayhem wherever she goes. We also meet a woman who is responsible for creating the memories that are implanted into replicants, and a human prostitute who fills in for de Armas to make sex possible (this reminded me of the scene in Her where this attempted). The future is not so bright.
The trailer gives away an important plot point that is used as a surprise in the film–the return of Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, who was the original Blade Runner. If you’ve been arguing about whether Deckard was a replicant or not, the film answers it definitively. We also get a brief return of Sean Young, who is really nothing but CGI.
I’m kind of avoiding saying whether I liked the film or not. I did, but I’m not sure why. The look is tremendous. Roger Deakins is the cinematographer–will be finally get his Oscar? The sets are beautiful in their bleakness, while Leto’s inner chamber is awash with reflected light off of a pool that is mesmerizing. But a few things bother me–the rules of what replicants can and can’t do bother me. They are created, without souls, but little seems to separate them from humans. They can bleed, feel pain and emotion (some are always crying). I would have liked more specificity.
Also, since the lead character is basically an android, what does he want? The first thing you learn in writing drama is that a character must want something, and must be always trying to get it. Gosling, because he plays a non-human who is programmed to do his job, is simply following orders through most of the film. At a certain point he takes on the ability to do his own thing–how did that happen? Replicants can also clearly love–he loves his hologram, for instance. How does that interfere with their obedience?
This film creates a lot of interesting questions and doesn’t answer all of them, which is okay. The lack of box office (the first film didn’t do great business, either, not in its first release) would suggest that any further sequels are unlikely, even though they are set up. I suppose fans will just have to argue about this one for thirty years until Blade Runner 2082 is released.