Blade Runner is one of those rare films that I’ve studied and still love, which is pretty amazing considering I think I’ve ended up studying it in three different classes across the course of my life. Having said that, when I first started hearing about a Blade Runner sequel in early 2012, I was highly sceptical. Would it recapture the magic? Would it be able to have the same level of philosophy? Would it be convincingly set in the same complex and beautiful world?
My scepticism only grew as the Hollywood remake-and-sequel machine hit its maximum output in the last few years. Every second film seems to be part of a franchise, and so many of them are mediocre. Even films that I’ve loved in the last couple of years (Star Wars: Force Awakens for one) have kind of re-hashed stories that their respective franchises have already covered. It can be fun to watch, but it’s disappointing as an audience member to be watching the same films over and over with different titles, particularly when there is an opportunity to add something different and exciting to an already developed universe.
The idea that Blade Runner 2049 would just be another one of these films cashing in on nostalgia was so disappointing to me that, despite being impressed by trailers that didn’t actually reveal the whole story for once, I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch the film. But by the time the early reviews were out I was convinced. Critics raved about it as they had the first, and more importantly, those who were fans talked of it being a true sequel, “… a film that was worth the 35-year wait..” (Thanks to Scott Collura from IGN for that quote)
So on a balmy Wednesday night, I headed to my local cinema to watch it, and for once, a sequel in no way disappointed me. I was impressed by the original story, stunning visual effects and performances that made me cry multiple times. Everything seems like it’s had a huge amount of effort poured into it in order to create something special, something worthy of its audience. It’s incredible to me that this new film actually managed to build on the story and world of the original because it’s so rare that that properly happens these days.
Blade Runner 2049 adds to the world by taking the story further into the dystopian future. It is set after an android rebellion, where newer, more obedient models (Nexus-9’s) built by the sinister Wallace Corporation, hunt down the Nexus-7 models of the first film. At the heart of the film is Agent K (Ryan Gosling) who hunts down a former medic Nexus-7 (Dave Bautista) who tells him that he is only able to destroy his own kind because he has never seen a miracle. The story picks up from there and focuses on the idea of what makes an individual’s reality more than what makes their humanity, but it contains all the philosophy one would expect from a true Blade Runner sequel. As one of my fellow audience members commented as we left the theatre, “This is deep sci-fi.”
My favourite thing by far about Blade Runner 2049, however, is how it plays with our expectations of how stories are meant to unfold. As audiences, we are used to seeing the Legacy Players (to steal a Star Wars term) being rolled out early in sequels, whereas Blade Runner 2049 only shows the audience Deckard in the final third of the movie. As audiences, we expect to have similar main characters throughout a franchise but despite sharing the same job Rick Deckard and Agent K could not be more different. As audiences (of blockbusters at least) we expect there to be a limit as to how much emotional pain our lead characters can endure, but Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t shy away from the emotional pain of having your identity shaped and re-shaped by others.
I have heard a lot of criticism among friends that Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t recreate the same story and philosophy that the first film did. It doesn’t have the same questions about what is human and what is android. As I have already mentioned there are fewer questions about humanity. But what good is a sequel, particular of a series of films with its base so strongly set in philosophy, if it takes us over familiar and safe ground? We’ve already discussed what it means to be human brilliantly in Blade Runner, so to expand on that point to talk about the nature of reality and the experience of humanity gives Blade Runner 2049 its own purpose.
Ultimately, it’s this reason that Blade Runner 2049 is such an important sequel; it has it’s own reason for existing, rather than just continuing a story in order to make more money. It raises it’s own issues, without ignoring the ones raised in the first film. It expands both the history and world of the universe without making feel like a new place. I can only hope that we get more sequels of this sort in the future because if we did, I wouldn’t mind the sequel machine quite so much. My fingers are crossed.