Spoilers … naturally!
A prologue re-introduces the audience to the early 21st century breakthrough by the Tyrell Corporation … the replicant … an artificial person, almost completely indistinguishable from a normal human, with human intelligence and superhuman strength … bio-engineered to be the slave labor force of humanity, but imbued with only a seven year life span to limit their emotional maturity. They eventually created a new model, the Nexus 8, which could have implanted memories to give the replicant a past and a more stable set of emotions. After several uprisings by the slaves in the 2020s, the Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt. Shortly after, the Earth started final ecological collapse, and was only saved by the development of new farming techniques by Niander Wallace. Wallace purchased the remnants of the Tyrell Corporation, and began making a new series of replicants which were absolutely obedient. Still free were the last of Tyrell’s Nexus 8s which had an unlimited lifespan, in hiding among the human population … hunted by a special group of police officers called blade runners …
30 years after the events of the first film, we follow Officer K (Ryan Gosling) who is both a blade runner with the Los Angeles Police Department, and also one of the new replicants developed by the Wallace Corporation. We see K find a Nexus 8 named Sapper (Dave Buatista) who is hiding as a farmer, but is also part of a replicant revolutionary faction. K retires (kills) Sapper, who curses K for turning on his own kind, noting that he might think differently if he had ever witnessed a miracle. Before leaving, K notices a small bunch of flowers laid on top of some dirt near a dead tree, and determines that there is a box buried underneath.
Back at police headquarters, the box is found to have skeletal remains … the remains of a woman who died in childbirth. Then to their horror, they determine that the bones belonged to a replicant. Replicants can’t reproduce, and if the public were to learn this, mass anarchy would erupt in the face of a replicant revolution amongst the remaining hidden Nexus 8s. K is ordered by his boss (Robin Wright) to keep this secret, and to find the child and retire it.
We see K go home where he has a holographic girlfriend named Joi (Ana de Armas). Joi helps him to keep in touch with his emotional side. K visits the Wallace Corporation where he meets Wallace (Jared Leto) and his assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), and through a search of records determines that the remains he recovered belonged to an experimental replicant made by Eldon Tyrell himself … Rachel … a replicant who disappeared in 2019 along with a blade runner of that era named Rick Deckard who seems to have fallen in love with Rachel. After K leaves, we learn that Wallace is unable to provide enough replicants to the off world colonies (“Every civilization was built on the back of a disposable workforce, but I can only make so many.“), but if he could learn the secret of how they reproduce, he could have all the replicants he wants. He orders Luv to recover Rachel’s remains, and to follow K as he searches for the child.
K returns to Sapper’s farm and notices an inscription in the tree that marked Rachel’s burial: 6-20-21. K knows these numbers from a memory from his childhood … they being numbers scrawled on a wooden horse he had at an orphanage that he had to hide from bullies. However, he knows those memories aren’t real, because he never had a childhood …
K visits the woman who is responsible for creating replicant memories, Dr. Ana Stelline, a woman of incredible imagination, but who is confined to live in a sealed room because of an immune disorder. She is able to determine that K’s childhood memory is real, something that K confirms when he visits the orphanage, and is able to find the wooden horse still hidden. His assumptions are confirmed when a review of the orphanage’s records indicate a boy and girl with identical DNA were born on the same day, with only the boy surviving. K suspects that he is Rachel’s son. And now sets off to find his father. An analysis of the wood in the horse leads him to the remains of Las Vegas.
In one of the abandoned casinos, K finds Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Deckard doesn’t know much. He left a pregnant Rachel with the replicant freedom movement, and was ordered to leave, but was unable to track the children later, and has been living in hiding ever since. Luv tracks K, and after a fight, captures Deckard, and leaves K for dead.
K is rescued by replicants who know what is going on. K reveals that he is the child of Rachel and Deckard, but the replicants tell him that can’t be, because the boy died in childbirth, and that only the girl survived, with the records being falsified to protect the girl. They inform him that Wallace cannot be allowed to discover the secret of replicant reproduction, because it will allow him to breed a slave race far grander than he can already build … and that K must stop this from happening, even if it means killing Deckard.
Deckard is brought before Wallace, who implies that perhaps he was programmed to fall in love with Rachel by Tyrell to experiment in replicant reproduction. Wallace begs to know the identity of the child, and even offers Deckard a new Rachel replicant, just as she looked 30 years ago. Deckard refuses, and Wallace kills the new Rachel, and orders Deckard to be taken off world to be tortured for the truth. En route, K catches up to them, and forces Luv and Deckard to crash in the water. K kills Luv and rescues Deckard, making it look like Deckard drowned in the crash.
Mortally wounded, K takes Deckard to see his daughter … the only woman who it could be … the woman who gave K the real memories of a child … Dr. Ana Stelline. As Deckard meets his daughter, K reclines on the steps of Stelline’s laboratory, and dies ………. Roll credits.
Denis Villeneuve, the director, had about as tough a job in creating this sequel as Peter Hyams did in creating 2010 (the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey) back in the mid-1980s. How can you follow up a masterpiece? In this case, the answer is: pretty well!
There are some particular elements that simply needed to be present for the sequel to succeed: one, Blade Runner was not so much a science fiction film as it was an example of crime film noir from the 1930s. The look and more importantly, feel, of Los Angeles is dirty and grimy and shades of grey and dark. They get that right. Second, the societal feel is a gradation of disconnection … there are still some rich people on Earth, but no one has a great quality of life … just differing levels of poor quality of life … very much a world where human civilization is on the decline, and no one seems to concerned. It is apathy run amuck. This, too, is captured quite well.
Third, the original music, considered one of the great film scores of the 1980s, was composed by Vangelis (the Greek composer of electronica best known for composing Chariots of Fire). The unique feel and sound of Vangelis had to be somewhat followed, and I think Hans Zimmer managed this effectively. Any differences are hardly distracting.
The visuals of the film are quite stunning at times. One scene has Joi contact a local prostitute so that Joi can get in “synch” with her, and so that she can make love to K. The scene is hardly ground breaking in terms of new technology, but it does demonstrate how some amazing (and in this case quite very obvious) visual effects can heighten a very emotional moment. Some of the cinematography is stunning, especially the scenes set in the approach to the ruins of Las Vegas.
One gigantic question that remains hanging in the air for fans of the original film: Was Deckard a replicant? There were four different versions of the original Blade Runner released over the decades, and in Ridley Scott’s definitive director’s cut released in 2007, he makes it fairly clear that Deckard was in fact a replicant. This film won’t answer that question. Certainly, Wallace teases Deckard with that, and in one scene where K questions Deckard former partner Gaff (Edward James Olmos), Gaff seems to imply that he thought Deckard might have been a replicant, but it is also pretty clear that Wallace doesn’t know, and that Deckard seems pretty sure that he is human, having aged over that time. Interviews with the director make it pretty clear that he was not interested in answering that question, and people looking for definitive answers will be disappointed. Those who prefer the ambiguity can be relieved.
Then what was this all about? We don’t get the answer to the big question, and we get introduced to a replicant freedom movement, but are never told where that goes. What is the point? I think that the point, much like the original film, was, like all great film noir, is to solve the mystery. In the original film, the mystery was to find and retire a quartet of renegade replicants. Deckard does that, and the film ends shortly after. In this film, K is tasked with finding the identity of the child, and the film ends with the child being identified and K dying. The heavier metaphysics of existence and humanity is the “B” story, so to speak. It is an amazing “B” story that elevated the original film (and this one) to among the great films of science fiction, but in the end, you are watching an old-fashioned mystery that follows far more from the work of Dashiell Hammett with a splash of William Gibson than vice versa.
In keeping with the grittiness, there is some nudity (more than the original film), and more blood and violence compared to the original film, so its “R” rating is not a soft “R” for sure.