The original Blade Runner had a significant enough impact on my development as a science fiction writer that I wasn’t exactly clamoring for a modern sequel that might step on its legacy. But if we’re going to get a sequel—and let’s face it, the way Hollywood rolls, it was going to happen—it might well be from the skillful hand of Denis Villeneuve. Decades after the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) chronicles the exploits of “K” (Ryan Gosling), a next-generation replicant who hunts down and retires the still-problematic rogue models. K’s latest job kicks off a mystery, however: the remains of a replicant that seems to have given birth, something that’s supposed to be impossible. K’s boss at the LAPD, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), is convinced that if word gets out that replicants can reproduce, it will lead to revolutionary chaos. Keeping the circle small, she assigns K the mission of tracking down and finding the replicant’s child. This embroils him in an investigation that makes him the target of a megalomaniacal replicant manufacturer named Neander Wallace (Jared Leto), and eventually puts him on the trail of fugitive blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who may be the key to solving the greater mystery.
Blade Runner 2049 is a richly designed, beautiful film that successfully builds a classic SF property’s future, upgrading the dark, cyberpunk dystopia of Ridley Scott’s film with state-of-the-art effects and more contemporary climate-change dread. (Among the film’s ominous, memorable visuals are stunning cityscapes of the Pacific Ocean seawall protecting Los Angeles from rising sea levels, and the brown-aired, irradiated eco-disaster of a desertified Las Vegas.) The story follows logically from the original, and while the plot doesn’t surprise, the skiffy furniture is slick and impressive. K’s flying car is fitted out with a detachable drone, for example, and he comes home to a virtual hologram girlfriend named Joi (Ana de Armas), whose AI persona makes for an interesting, legitimate character. The digital technology and environmental crisis elements of the world-building cooperate surprisingly well with the more retro aspects of the scenario, such as the offworld colony backstory, which—along with an ever- questioning surreality—makes this film feel far more true to Philip K. Dick’s thematic milieu than the original. The tone is perhaps more portentous than the pulpy subject matter warrants, and the cast rarely rises above muted professionalism, although de Armas, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, and Sylvia Hoeks all make solid impressions. It’s still not a film I really needed to exist, but overall Blade Runner 2049 is an impressive, stately construct that elevates its expected lore with hauntingly beautiful visuals and an infectious atmosphere of futuristic intrigue.