How Blade Runner 2049 flips the first movie on its head
Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 sequel to Blade Runner masterfully subverts the familiar formula of Ridley Scott’s classic 1982 original.
by Ridley Scott Blade runner has long been considered an untouchable cinematic masterpiece on par with Casablanca or Blown away by the wind. As the first and still the greatest black tech, it is a cornerstone of science fiction. When Denis Villeneuve was hired to direct a late sequel to Scott’s film, it seemed doomed to failure. Villeneuve might as well have been hired to lead Goodfellas 2 or Revelation now 2.
And yet, miraculously, Villeneuve succeeded. Released 35 years after the revered 1982 original, Blade Runner 2049 followed in the footsteps of its predecessor with universal critical success followed by box office disappointment. How did Villeneuve manage to make a Blade runner sequel that did the impossible and satisfied a voracious cult sci-fi fan base?
It’s hard to come up with a premise for a sequel, as the whole point of a sequel is to replicate the success of the original, but sticking too closely to the established formula will feel like an unnecessary overhaul. Most sequels end up repeating the first movie with just one key change. In Die hard 2John McClane must once again save his wife from a hostile takeover bid – but this time it’s at an airport, not a skyscraper. In The Hangover Part II, the Wolfpack once again goes to a bachelor party and loses a guy – but this time it’s in Bangkok, not Vegas. In Home alone 2, Kevin McCallister is once again left alone by his family and targeted by the Wet Bandits – but this time it’s in New York City, not Chicago.
The best sequels do something to raise the stakes of the original, like Aliens replacing the only alien threat of the first Extraterrestrial movie with a beehive full of dozens of them, or build on its themes, like Vito’s early rise alongside Michael’s Corruption in The Godfather II. One way to follow up a beloved movie with something that feels fresh and new while still retaining the spirit of what has drawn fans before is to cleverly subvert the familiar formula. In Terminator 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 becomes a protector, while an even more powerful Terminator is the new villain.
It is this last technique that makes Villeneuve Blade runner the sequel works so well. He made a movie with essentially the same premise as the original, but rocked. Scott’s film was told through the eyes of Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, a supposedly human and tough detective who reluctantly takes on a job as a “blade runner” in search of replicants and begins to suspect that he might. to be a replicant himself. Villeneuve’s sequel is similarly told through the eyes of an LA-based blade runner, but Ryan Gosling’s Officer K is a supposed replicant who begins to suspect he’s a human. The telltale sign of a replicant is their implanted memories, but K believes their memories might be unique (and therefore real).
Concentrating his own Blade runner A story about an identity crisis similar to the first film, Villeneuve was able to tap into the same existential themes that Scott’s film touched on. The story of an android who thinks he’s a human is completely different than the story of a human who thinks he’s an android, but they both tap into the same thought-provoking ideas. Both films ask the same question from their own perspective: if artificial intelligence can blend into human society and become indistinguishable from real people, then what really constitutes a “real” person?
One of the biggest fears about the Blade runner sequel was that it would ruin the ambiguity of the original. Scott’s original Blade runner doesn’t reveal whether Deckard is truly a replicant or not, and the follow-up to that cliffhanger ending seemed to promise a definitive answer to one of cinema’s most effective unanswered questions. Thankfully, Villeneuve understood that much of the power of Scott’s film came from the ambiguity of Deckard’s identity, so he left that ambiguity untouched in the sequel and instead provided answers elsewhere, as the result. heartbreaking of Deckard’s cross-relationship with Rachael.
Taking a human protagonist who could be a replicant and replacing it with a replicant protagonist who could be a human isn’t the only reason Blade Runner 2049 is a satisfying sequel to Scott’s classic. Villeneuve took audiences outside the Blade runner Dystopian Los Angeles of the Universe to explore beautifully crafted post-apocalyptic visions of Las Vegas and San Diego. In addition to expanding worldbuilding in the literal sense, Villeneuve also introduced AI girlfriends and reproductive androids to this curious futuristic world.
But building an awe-inspiring world wouldn’t make sense without a plot that can captivate audiences and get them invested in the next chapter of this mind-boggling sci-fi installment. The morally dubious story of a replicant tasked with hunting replicants harks back to the classic blacks who inspired Blade runner, then the revelation that K could be the legendary human child born to a replicating mother returns to the mysteries of Blade runner himself. Sadly, the fate K ultimately meets is closer to Roy Batty than it is to Rick Deckard.
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