“Blade Runner 2049” is not a Replicant, but an evolution

Illustration by Iain Duffus.

The original “Blade Runner” is an indisputable classic in the science fiction genre. It revolutionized the way sci-fi films looked and the themes they played with. It was a subtle exploration of existence with a simple plot disguising the discussion points.

More than 30 years later, Denis Villeneuve, the acclaimed director of “Arrival” and “Prisoners,” brings us an unexpected sequel “Blade Runner 2049.” Hopes were high with Villeneuve in the director’s chair, one of the original writers returning for the script, and Harrison Ford coming back as Rick Deckard. But many wondered  if this sequel could recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of the original.

Taking place thirty years after the first film, “Blade Runner 2049” sees replicants — outlawed robots used for slave labor — returned to prominence after a wealthy creator invents new models that are safer. That is to say, they are less likely to realize their existence and turn on their enslavers.

One such replicant is K, who works as a bounty hunter that tracks down older models and “retires” them. After one job, K discovers evidence toward a secret that could change the fate of society and the importance of replicants within this future. However, the creator of these new replicants wants this secret as well, leading to the hunter becoming the hunted as K tries to find answers.

The most surprising aspect of “Blade Runner 2049” is how it works as a true sequel. It manages to maintain the gorgeous visuals and mattified atmosphere of the 1982 original, but also evolving the universe and exploring what these changes mean.

The visuals are some of the best I’ve seen in years. The style is impressive in its grittiness, looking like a 1980’s dystopian future plausibly mixed with 21st century sensibilities. The cinematography is immersive, managing to suck the audience into this world with its vibrantly muted color pallette. These elements work to immerse you into the world, just like the original was able to do with practical effects.  

The new technologies brought into the futuristic world feel like they fit right in. One such element is Joi, a holographic A.I. that acts like a real woman, similar to 2013’s “Her.” It’s an interesting expansion on the concept of replicants, exploring the effect digital intelligences can have on humans, or those who perceive themselves as humans.

Despite having cliched moments, the plot in “2049” is full of engaging characters and interesting moments. While straightforward in the beginning, the story manages a few twists that I honestly didn’t see coming, with the major twist set to confuse and anger many audiences.

Yet, this twist isn’t meaningless. Just like it’s predecessor, this sequel has conversation-starting themes on existence, the future of artificial intelligence, and the toxicity of a society immersed in technology. These themes are not too subtle, but they are explored in fantastic scenes that manage to fall in line with the overall plot.

“2049” isn’t concerned with banking on the audience’s ability to recognize nostalgic sounds and imagery. It is instead aiming to reintroduce socially-aware and intelligent sci-fi into the blockbuster genre. It’s a film concerned with making the audience question not only the future we are building towards, but also what it means to exist and what factors dictate what we consider to be “real”

To explain further would spoil the joy of watching this film. Just know that Villeneuve and company have crafted a beautiful looking and sounding cinematic experience. It’s intelligent, while trusting the audience to be interested during the nearly three hour runtime. The slower pace and silence filled scenes shows that the filmmakers trust the audience to engage with the film on a thematic level most films wouldn’t even dare.

Once “2049” was over, all I wanted to do was wait in my seat for the next showing, excited to see how the movie changes the second time around. This is easily a contender for film of the year, and you’d be doing yourself and the film industry a disservice if you miss out on this while it’s in theaters.

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