I did not love Blade Runner the first time I saw it. This may have been the result of some teenage rebelliousness: I went in knowing it was my father’s favorite movie. I also went in thinking it was going to be some kind of sci-fi action movie; if not Star Wars, at least Star Wars-adjacent. What I got was a film whose pace can charitably be called “measured.” At the time, I would have chosen words more like “boring” and “pretentious.”
I think because I’ve been there, I am not the kind of Blade Runner fan who thinks that if you don’t like it, you don’t “get” it. It took many viewings to settle on my adoration for the film, something that often happens for me with thoughtful, measured sci-fi epics (I went on virtually the same cinematic journey for 2001: A Space Odyssey). I began to love the languid pace, the stunning visuals, the deep ambiguity at the core of the film. But it took time, and many years, to get there.
Which is why it’s rather extraordinary that I loved Blade Runner 2049 pretty much right out of the gate.
To be sure, much of this is likely due to the fact that I now deeply respect the first film. The original Blade Runner has become strangely nostalgic for me, despite that it’s probably only in the last ten years or so that I developed a real appreciation for it. Yet it’s not just nostalgia driving my love of the new film: it’s also that, in those same ten years, I’ve become increasingly interested in the question of humanity. What does it mean to be human? And what would happen if we extended that definition to encompass all sorts of nonhuman others?
Blade Runner 2049 is interested those same questions, and it approaches them with all the ambient beauty and deep ambiguity of the original Blade Runner.
The story of Blade Runner 2049 is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. Suffice it to say, Ryan Gosling plays a Blade Runner named K who stumbles across a mystery that could change everything. And really, that’s all you need to know.
There’s a large number of characters in the film, and almost every one broaches a new subject in the question of what it means to be human. My favorites in the supporting cast were undoubtedly Ana de Armas as Joi, a hologram girlfriend, and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a deadly replicant in service to Jared Leto’s creepy Niander Wallace. Both do exceptional work here and deserve to break out into the mainstream. Robin Wright also does fine work as K’s icy, though sympathetic, boss, and Mackenzie Davis, though her runtime is brief, is involved in what will certainly be among the most infamous sequences in a major Hollywood film this year.
But you’re here for Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Good news: they’re both great. Gosling’s stoic charisma has never been better deployed, and Ford gives a late-career best performance here as a wounded man (or replicant!) who wears his heartbreak on his sleeve. (If you’re wondering, by the way, whether this film addresses “the replicant question” that has become the heart of so much debate about Blade Runner since its release, the answer is yes. And the answer it comes up with is brilliant.)
Of course, the real star of the show is Roger Deakins, cinematographer extraordinaire whose work here will hopefully net him a long-deserved Academy Award. Blade Runner 2049 looks absolutely stunning; every sequence is gorgeously constructed, deepening the world and creating an intoxicating atmosphere that draws you in and doesn’t let you go. See this on the biggest screen you can. Deakins and director Denis Villeneuve have created an entire world here.
But it all comes back to that question: What makes us human — is it how we’re born, or how we live? The way the story is weaved into that question at every turn is Blade Runner 2049‘s real triumph, and the reason it more than lives up to the promise of the original. The new Blade Runner is a masterpiece, a worthy successor that deepens and extends the themes and the world of the original while honoring a sci-fi aesthetic that quite literally changed cinema forever. It is a perfect sequel.
And I only had to see it once to fall in love. That has to count for something too, right?