It is the year 2049. Humans and replicants share an uneasy alliance in the murky twilight of Denis Villeneuve’s Los Angeles. Its streets are paved with the residue of past nuclear winters, dotted with smutty stores and riddled with crime.
Above, in the sky, this city’s view impresses the relationship between man and machine: its intricacies are eukaryotic and its inhabitants cancerous.
On its last legs, the morally barren world of Blade Runner 2049 has forced what remains of humanity to cling to the flickering idea of itself, believing it to be their only means of salvation.
It is against this backdrop that Officer K, a blade runner played by Ryan Gosling, hunts earlier models of his own kind, and leads a normal android lifestyle with his Artificial Intelligence companion JOI. He is gullible but lovable, and knows how to double-tap with a pistol.
Not only does Gosling play this socially adjusting android officer to great effect, but Villeneuve’s decision to cement his character’s replicant identity gives the world K navigates a powerful expository feel.
Ultimately what gives purpose to an android’s life is hardly different to our own monotonous routine.
On one such foreseeable extraction job, K uncovers a truth with earth-shattering implications. His loyalties are soon tested on every axis of his faith by his commander—whose orders he categorically obeys—his memories and himself.
The second titan of the replicant product line, Niander Wallace, is willing to sacrifice anything to ignite the revolution this secret would undoubtedly unleash.
In a world where the lines separating humans and replicants are tripwire thin, Villeneuve does not shy away from asking his audience to consider what one might find at the core of one’s being, or hold back in answering the questions he poses.
Take for instance the role of prostitution in a future where digital girlfriends can be holographically beamed into studio apartments.
This becomes a stunning example of corporeal qualities of love, one-upping Spike Jonze’s Her in all the right ways, or the ethics and historical parallels to hunting one’s own race.
To do this, requires a mastery of the show-do-not-tell style, and Blade Runner 2049’s biggest strengths exist in its ability to make audiences play detective like K. The cinematography in this movie seizes the audience’s immediate attention, and dares it to look away, but like a flytrap, the audience cannot.
Living in a dystopic, landlocked mega city has not looked this cool since Katsuhiro Otomo’s cult classic Akira.
On top of this, 2049’s Los Angeles is also personified by its remarkable integration with the film’s soundtrack. This connection is what gives the city its voice.
Hans Zimmer’s heavy tech-noir style captures the mad power of the industry as accurately as Villeneuve’s visuals, and the plot’s heart racing momentum runs to his synthetic beat.
Just as impressively, however, there are times where the world so effectively expresses itself that nothing needs to be explicitly said.
The architecture and layout of the zealous replicant scientist Wallace might be the most visually stunning on-screen locale, if only because of how much more it speaks to the machinations of its owner.
The audio-visual experience proves itself a vital dimension to 2049’s characters—especially when considering the natural monotone of an average replicant.
With replicant personalities adhering rigidly to a baseline, some might worry the dialogue will lose its punch in the midst of all these unemotional robots, but that is exactly why it works.
With K being a replicant, the audience’s following of him about his daily life speaks to the everyday struggle of his kind to adjust and socialize.
His relationship to JOI helps him improve his speaking skills and understand complex human emotions.
But it is not enough to always pass for human, although it is easy for the audience to forget that fact sometimes.
With that said, when replicants get angry, things get terrifying and vicious. It is hard not to remember that a replicant can crush someone’s skull like a hardboiled egg anytime they are standing, innocently enough, behind some unsuspecting person.
Such moments not only show brute force superiority, but the restraint these fledging androids must display to coexist.
Just to clarify, there is very little wrong with Blade Runner 2049. Even its run time of two hours and 44 minutes works in favor of Villeneuve’s meticulous style.
Blade Runner 2049’s conclusion is pure magic, which is what good science fiction is in its best forms—depictions of when the impossible becomes the everyday.
If that made Villeneuve a magician, it would not be too far-fetched. He has conjured up the very soul of future Los Angeles, defined its essence and tuned the audience into its pulse.
If there is one movie everyone should see by the end of this year, it is the movie nobody will stop talking about until the year 2049.