Thirty-three years is a long time to wait for a sequel. But since the true Blade Runner (the Final Cut) only surfaced in 2007 perhaps it is more accurate to say Blade Runner 2049 is only a decade later than the original. Denis Villeneuve, who impressed with the last great sci-fi film Arrival (2016), is at the helm for this grandiose epic. His vision is a 160 minute spectacle which is both dizzying in its various cityscapes but painfully intimate in the confined spaces of characterless flats. It develops the world-building of Blade Runner and deepens its potent questioning of what it means to be human.
Blade Runner 2049 places itself 30 years after the events of the first film, during which there has been a ‘blackout’ in Los Angeles where all digital records were wiped, including the identities of rogue replicants. Agent K (Ryan Gosling), himself a replicant, is tasked with hunting down the remaining Nexus 8 model replicants. We first meet him as he ‘retires’ Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), who goads K by telling him he can only do his soulless work as he has “never seen a miracle”. A discovery on Morton’s farm provides the thrust of the plot which drives K through the dystopic US and straight into the path of Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Of all Harrison Ford’s recent career re-treads, Blade Runner 2049 has been anticipated with the most apprehension. How could a film enigma which took 23 years to reach a final product possibly spawn a successful sequel? The answer is in the alignment of awesome visuals with intensely personal sequences. For every grand, post-nuclear vista there is a scene between K and his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas). Their relationship is much indebted to Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and the moments where K grapples with his need for her love and impossible intimacy are heart-breaking.
Blade Runner 2049 is a completely worthy sequel to the sci-fi classic and has a claim to be the best film of the year. The audience is left questioning the nature of humanity, each character and the idea of self – when Deckard says in a cracked voice, as a tear runs down his face, “I know what’s real” we share the burning uncertainty which threatens to engulf him. But the film ends with K serenely letting the snowflakes fall around him, accepting his insignificant place in the universe as one of so many different, created beings.