For those of us who were lucky enough to see the original Blade Runner (1982) in theaters, it was indeed a revelatory experience. As a young teenager that has grown up in the 70's, I'd been a fan of Star Trek, Superman, Batman, and Star Wars. All of that informed my affection for science fiction as I understood it until I saw Blade Runner and realized just how little I knew. Ridley Scott's film was a soul-shattering vision of urban Hell, moral confusion, and a vague hope that meaning could be found even in a godless world where death was inescapable. The original Blade Runner is a classic of the genre that only 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) can equal. Unlike Kubrick's vision of infinite space and mind-bending time (It starts 3,000,000 years in the past and jump cuts to the year 2001) the original Blade Runner was an existential tract concerned with that philosophical question: "What does it mean to be human?"
It would be presumptuous to say that the original or its sequel answer this question, but they do provide an answer that the viewer is free to debate. I won't go into that debate here because it would detract from the more obvious question...is Blade Runner 2049 worth my time and money? If you are in any way a devotee of the original and what some of us call "hard" science fiction, as opposed to the more juvenile space opera of the Star Wars films then yes it is more than worth your time and money. BR:2049 begins long after the events of the previous film with "K" (Ryan Gosling) as the Replicant Blade Runner who hunts his own kind. Director Denis Velleneuve shows a skill and style that cannot be denied. He plunges us into the grim cyberpunk future that was established with the original without being slavish in his devotion to it and makes it his own. Too often sequels feel like "a slight variation on a theme" and allow little room for genuine creativity. Not so with BR:2049, a film that in no ways feels tacked on.
Frankly my expectations were pretty low for this movie. Too often a genuinely great film will be followed by a sequel clearly for commercial reasons and audiences have grown weary of this cynicism. What Denis Vellenueve and writer Hampton Fancher have done is that amazingly rare trick of a sequel that is just as good and in some ways superior to the original. An achievement only done by Francis Ford Coppola with Godfather II, James Cameron with Aliens(1986) and The Bride of Frankenstein(1936). It is not hyperbole to say that there are images in this film that you will still remember in 20 years. Not merely because the special effects are cutting edge, and they are...but because where they're used adds emotional resonance to the story of "K" and his search for answers. Too often the limitless power of CGI is used to batter the audience with spectacle so as to avoid having to provide any actual entertainment (every Transformers movie ever made) and that is certainly not the case here.
Harrison Ford is to be lauded for what he does here, playing the aging Deckard much like Eastwood in UNFORGIVEN, the bitter gunslinger who could never reconcile his own moral ambiguities. His face seems to be at all times a mask of permanent disapproval. In light of recent events it seems weirdly logical that Deckard would choose to hide in the ruins of Las Vegas, a city now destroyed we are told by a dirty bomb. There's also allusions to a "black out" event that erased all electronic records. Were the film makers trying to warn us about where a Trump presidency might take us? You be the judge. The movie itself seems to take little interest in politics as such and is, like the original, concerned with deeper questions of loss, disconnection and the endless search for meaning in a world that seems composed of little more than the common rubble of banality. If there is an ultimate message in both Blade Runner films perhaps it is that the search for meaning is forever fruitless because such meaning can only be found in human connection...in the bonds between family, friends and lovers. Only against that can the darkness of crushing despair be kept at bay.