Ryan Gosling’s Blade Runner, aptly named after the consonant K, utters these words to his lieutenant as he is asked to ‘retire’ a child. Yes, retire here does indeed refer to the execution of a young android deemed too dangerous for society at the hand of Blade Runners, the law enforcement officers hired for this very purpose. The year is 2049 and the government has a problem: an android has seemingly given birth and this impossible occurrence could spill over into rebellion, chaos and civil war. K, himself a replicant, is a stoic no-nonsense hunter who longs for meaning and connection. The moral dilemma of a replicant hunting its own kind is not lost on K, whose programming does not allow him to feel and, thus, prevents him from rebelling against his human masters. Suffering daily verbal abuse from his fellow human officers, K lives out quietly in a dense urban squalor tucked away in a corner of the megacity of Los Angeles. Futuristic LA is a testament to both human ingenuity and shocking apathy as flying cars and bright neon signs present a hopeful demeanour amidst a rotting civilization held together barely by the prospect of escape to an off-world colony. A chance encounter in a barren wasteland leads K to believe that he may be the miracle child himself, setting him on a path against Wallace Corporation, the overarching mega-conglomerate that assembles the androids. Things escalate quickly thereafter as Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace dispatches his favourite android Luv to find the miracle child. Wallace needs a slave labor force for developing colonies on other planets and what best way to accomplish this than to develop androids that procreate. The mysterious child of Deckard and Rachael is the key to this and, as Luv and K set out to find this missing link for entirely different reasons, the two androids eventually meet in a brutal battle at the Los Angeles Sea Wall as the movie reaches its climax.
Michael Green and Hampton Fancher’s screenplay is infectiously intriguing as the enduring mystery of the child’s identity slowly leads back to Deckard and Racheal from Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic. The attention to detail is mind-blowing, with the visual effects and set design providing a prognosticating glimpse into the cyberpunk world of the future. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s haunting yet bombastic score is not only a fitting tribute to the Vangelis original but also helps the sequel stand on its own.
There is an unforgiving yet almost perfect equilibrium to the action as well. K’s impassive demeanor elevates the combat and confrontations to a level rarely experienced in mainstream Hollywood. Action sequences are streamlined perfectly, allowing the viewer to appreciate them as a brutal ballet, as opposed to the shaky-cam nonsense prevalent in Hollywood today.
As the narrative unfolds, we realize the strange perplexity at the display. Humans wish to be more connected through technology, yet end up even further apart because of it. The film wonders if humans should even call themselves as such anymore, with most of them unable to connect with each other on an emotional level, causing androids to fill this role instead. Furthermore, many human characters, including the antagonist Niander Wallace, want to become more enhanced through robotics for greater efficiency, while androids simply wish for a soul and the ability to reproduce in order to feel more human-like. It is conundrums like these that the film presents brilliantly, forcing one to ponder if humanity will come full circle when a similar scenario eventually occurs in our reality? The film begs the question: In an ever-transforming and evolving world, will the only distinction between a man and a machine be the presence of a soul? As our daily routines become increasingly collated and quantified, how long until we lose our humanity and become statistical machinations designed only to produce and consume?
With a raw and unforgiving look at the existential crises facing the human condition, Blade Runner 2049 manages to be a highly thought-provoking blockbuster, something which is as rare as a blue moon in a film industry that is more concerned with marketable franchises than true works of art. With Villeneuve quickly becoming one of the most inventive directors in the industry, it can be said with great certainty that Blade Runner 2049 is one of those rare cases where a sequel is indeed superior to the original.