Over two decades ago, the Tyrell Corporation had perfected the art of creating artificial humans, or replicants as they were officially called - "skinjobs" to the unimpressed masses seeking a pejorative - but would include a time limit on how long they could live. They were stronger than humans, but also had trouble with emotions and relating to those around them, yet Tyrell had been working on attaining something as close to perfection as possible at the time of his death. These days, it is the company of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who craft a better replicant, such as K (Ryan Gosling), who makes himself useful hunting down his fellow kind who have turned rebel...
The original Blade Runner was a hard act to follow, not least because its director Ridley Scott insisted on tinkering with it years after it flopped in cinemas, but gathered a strong cult following nonetheless. That was unlikely to be the fate of this sequel, for while the cult was certainly there for it, new director Denis Villeneuve, working from a script co-written by Hampton Fancher who co-wrote the first instalment, was definite when he said this version was the one he was satisfied with; besides, it was nearly three hours long, you would hope they had got it right with their first try this time around. That did not prevent the results being divisive among the fans and newcomers alike.
Perhaps the issue was that Villeneuve had concocted an art movie rather than the traditional science fiction blockbuster; this did well in some territories such as Britain, where the original's cult had really taken hold, but was close to a flop in places like the United States, where the audience seemed to be expecting something more akin to the action strain of sci-fi that had become the norm in the decades since Scott had made his version of Philip K. Dick's classic novel. There had been action sequences in that, but it was not an action flick, and Villeneuve preferred to take things slowly with his follow-up to give its themes of the definition of humanity room to breathe rather than be swamped by the effects.
It appeared from this that what it meant to be human, or to be alive more pertinently, was companionship, someone to share your life with, therefore lonely males would be the target audience for Blade Runner 2049, or so it came across. That K finds his particular humanity when he makes connections with those around him, artificial or otherwise, was an indicator that in a world where increasing numbers of people were feeling ever more isolated and turning to technology to keep them company, in the future the ideal partner would be an intelligent program designed to love its owner unconditionally, which given they had feelings too would be mutually beneficial even when one or both parties were not real in the sense of organically created and moulded by society and their formative experiences.
K has one such program that is displayed as a hologram, Joi (Ana de Armas), a beautiful and affectionate presence who happens not to be an actual person. And Rick Deckard had one of those himself once, in the form of Rachael (Sean Young) in the first movie, where we learn that their relationship was, no matter how vital, broken apart by the pressure of the authorities for one more reason than it being unnatural for a human to love a replicant, according to them. This fed into a religious angle, where the replicants had formed a messianic cult amongst themselves, needing to be recognised as genuine souls, complete with their very own Christ figure who has been hidden away from capture and potential extermination.
Deckard is still alive, and Harrison Ford showed up well into the second hour with one of his best performances in years, channelling his grumpy public persona into poignancy. The effect was of vast landscapes, often ruined, where tiny pockets of activity occurred, dwarfing the significance of our puny concerns when the universe rolled on obliviously: love was what made this matter, we were told, in a chilly, carefully made but curiously sterile movie. There was a sense that the events we saw were purely important because we were supposed to be invested in K's emotional crisis, and if that didn't work out then Deckard's would do just as well. Those in charge were, in a heavy irony, less able to feel sympathy (a most human trait, lest we forget) and therefore found it easier to try to wipe out the real thing even if it was in an unlikely location, the heart of the shunned and despised in society. There was a curious perspective, almost clinical, to Blade Runner 2049 that went against its musings over emotions; they were here, just hard to get into. Vangelis-style music by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer.