One of the central enigmas of Blade Runner—clarified over several cuts and recuts by the director, Ridley Scott—was whether Ford’s Deckard might be a replicant himself. So it would only be natural for filmgoers to wonder the same about Gosling’s character, who is the new movie’s protagonist and also a Blade Runner. Obviously, I can’t tell you whether he is a replicant or not. But I can tell you that his serial number is KD6.3-7 and that he goes by “K” for short.
When the film opens, K is conducting an investigation at a farm—or at least what passes for a farm in the sunless gloom of 2049. (Its chief commodity seems to be protein-worms.) There, amid the roots of a dead tree, he finds something important that I am also not supposed to describe to readers. Suffice to say that it leads to a mystery of great urgency, one that might forever alter the still-uneasy balance between human and replicant life. As his boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), explains, “This breaks the world, K.”
So K sets out to solve the mystery. Along the way, he is aided by his “girlfriend,” Joi (Ana de Armas), who is, depending on your vantage, either more or less than she appears; he is intermittently hindered by a murderous corporate functionary named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks); and he encounters another character, played by the actress Carla Juri, about whom I’m evidently not supposed to say anything at all, except—I kid you not—the following: “We meet many striking characters over the course of the film, and she is one of them.” (It’s true, insofar as it goes.)
What I hope I can say without fear of giving offense to even the most fainthearted studio executive or prospective audience member is this: Blade Runner 2049 is terrific, a worthy heir to one of the great science-fiction films of all time.
Although Ridley Scott had long discussed the possibility of making a sequel, that directorial task ultimately fell to Denis Villeneuve. This is (with all respect to Scott, who produced) very good news. Villeneuve, who is French Canadian, is in the midst of one of the most intriguing streaks of filmmaking in recent years, beginning with Incendies in 2011 and continuing through Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and last year’s Arrival. As that most recent film and his current one powerfully demonstrate, Villeneuve has a particular knack for high-brow science fiction. This makes his intention to adapt Frank Herbert’s classic, Dune, into a feature film—and in so doing, hopefully erase all memory of David Lynch’s woefully ill-advised 1984 version—one of the most exciting possibilities of the next few years.
The screenplay for Blade Runner 2049 is by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the original Blade Runner) and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant). Sharp, atmospheric, and—a great rarity—deserving of its 160-minute running time, the film gently expands and extends its predecessor’s inquiries into the nature of identity, personhood, and slavery. These inquiries now comprise not merely the “real” and manufactured, but the virtual as well: There are strong resonances with Spike Jonze’s masterful Her throughout, including in what may be the film’s most touching scene. There are echoes, too, of Pinocchio and Treasure Island, Spielberg’s Minority Report and HBO’s Westworld. Sinatra and Presley even make significant (virtual) appearances—the Chairman and the King, long gone but never forgotten.