From its opening moments, Blade Runner 2049 – the sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic 1982 sci-fi original – is more interested in creating an experience than telling a story by the numbers. It’s why the director Denis Villeneuve – known for last year’s think-piece Arrival, and 2015 crime thriller Sicario – and the film, in turn, bide their time, to slow you down and immerse in the dreary, eerie, and dystopian world of futuristic Los Angeles, where it now seemingly snows in addition to the incessant rain.
Though the sequel bills both Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford as its main stars, with the marketing giving them equal focus, the film is centred on the former, with the latter only appearing in the final third of Blade Runner 2049’s 163-minute runtime. But even when he’s not on-screen, Ford’s Deckard – the blade runner that we first met three decades ago, and who’s now assumed dead – drives the rather straightforward plot, which sucks Gosling’s Officer K, a replicant who also works as a blade runner for the LAPD in 2049, into a web of family, memories, and replicant rights.
Much like the original Blade Runner, 2049 is concerned with the idea of what makes us human, and how the replicants – bioengineered humans that are used as slave labour on off-world colonies – differ from the ‘real ones’. In exploring that chasm that divides these two sections of the populace, something Officer K’s boss – played by Robin Wright, and simply called Madam throughout – calls a wall, the film delves into the importance of the soul at one point. After a major discovery early on threatens to blur the differences between humans and their creations, Madam tells K that if you tell either side there’s no wall, you’re immediately starting a war or a slaughter, the latter implying the more powerful nature of the replicants.
It was a very similar kind of tension that beckoned the beginning of the end of the older replicant models, as we are told. Three decades have passed since the original Blade Runner, set in 2019, nearly as far apart from the new one as its release. In that time, the world suffered an incident known as the Blackout that caused all electronic data to be corrupted, and widespread famines. It was blamed on the replicants, who were outlawed, and which led to the bankruptcy of their manufacturer, the Tyrell Corporation.