This is probably gonna hit on some on spoilers, so tread carefully and all that.
There need not be any more Blade Runner. We don’t need a sequel, or prequel shorts, or new cuts of the original. Anything that comes along this far removed from the original’s point in time will be nothing but artifice– something reaching into the past trying to mimic what we’ve remembered and forgotten in the 30+ intervening years. Blade Runner has no purpose other than its own existence, and the people who made it are fully aware of that, since the movie is about that very lack of purpose.
The world of the first Blade Runner was one teetering on the edge of a conceptual revolution. Replicants existed, but they were an “other” that existed a sidestep or two from society. We saw a natural human realize that Replicants shouldn’t be pushed to the side if it could be helped, because they were just as human, if not more so, than us. The world of 2049 didn’t learn that lesson. Replicants are still an “other,” but they’re fully integrated into the fabric of society. The planet itself is on the fritz, with snow in Los Angeles being a regular thing and a dirty bomb wiping out Las Vegas at what looked to be that city’s peak. It’s as if by rejecting the Replicant as just the Next Human, humanity has been punished on a global scale. Wood is a scare commodity, and a small scrap of it carved into a horse can buy you a “real” horse manufactured by the same people who deal in Replicants. There’s literally nothing for humans to come back for on Earth, just like there’s nothing to come back to in a Blade Runner sequel. We’re grasping at wooden horses that were never ours despite our memories telling us otherwise.
Gosling plays new school blade runner K. He’s not just a new school runner, he’s also a new school Replicant– all the humanity of the old models but also fitted with a sense of acceptance and pliability. He does what he’s told while having some semblance of free will and control over his immediate actions. He gets wrapped up in a mystery after offing his latest escaped old school Replicant. He finds the bones of another dead Replicant, a woman who died during childbirth.
Replicants aren’t supposed to breed.
K dutifully goes on the case, but as the case progresses, he finds himself enveloped in it personally. Events begin to make him believe that he is the missing Replicant child. He has memories that sync with dates he finds relevant to the case. He’s told by a memory expert that this memory of his isn’t merely manufactured– it’s something someone actually experienced. K finds purpose in trying to find his creator– not the company who supposedly manufactured him, but the human who sired him.
Thing is, it’s all for naught. K is not a miracle. It doesn’t matter that his hologram housewife tells him he’s special and believes everything he says. She’s just programmed that way, no matter how romantic it may sound. It doesn’t matter that he’s the one who put all the pieces together. The fact that his memories are linked to the case are purely coincidental. K is a true noir hero– the man tossed into a situation beyond his control who’s only agency is to determine how it ends for him. He’s a lot like the version of Philip Marlowe we get in The Long Goodbye, who may exude many of the hard-boiled trappings of such a hero, but is far out of his league. He’s used not just by the femme fatale, but by everyone he’s ever considered a friend or ally. All he can do is shepherd his predecessor to his own out of control fate.
K is a hero without any greater destiny. He simply makes the most of a bad situation. This movie is without any greater destiny beyond its need to be a sequel to a movie that finally found its audience after being relatively neglected at its own inception. Blade Runner 2049 makes the best of its own bad situation, and it’s pretty damn brilliant at doing just that. It’s the sort of post-modern self-aware thing that takes that awareness and internalizes it and makes it a piece of itself. It may be a still-born heart, but it wears that heart on its sleeve– much like how the movie brandishes the logos of long-dead brands like Atari.
It really is a beautiful corpse of a movie, and it’s probably gonna end up being my favorite of the year.