When does a replica become real, when does an experience become real? Blade Runner 2049, the 2017 sequel to the 1982 classic, succeeds largely because of how it builds on these central questions from the original. But the great visuals and performances from attractive actors certainly don't hurt.
Ryan Gosling stars as K in what may be the role his whole career of playing brooding misfits has led up to. Instead of the ambiguity from the first film over whether or not the protagonist is a replicant, an artificial human being, K's established as a replicant explicitly from the beginning. And as a Blade Runner, his job is to kill his own kind simply for being what they are.
Harrison Ford's line from the first film about having "no choice" when his boss puts him back on the job is echoed in this film by K when discussing the possibility of a "soul" in his targets with his own boss--Robin Wright in another impressively hard boiled performance. Even more than Deckard, K leads a life where every value, every meaningful experience is rendered utterly meaningless by the perspective of the reality he operates in.
Director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green show a keen understanding of this and the end of the film appropriately leaves K in complete limbo, underscored by a line from Harrison Ford that has more implications than Deckard realises.
One of the more striking shots from the trailers of a massive blue and pink naked woman, Joi (Ana de Armas), kneeling over K is a surprisingly powerful moment in the film. At first I thought Joi ought to have had more time in the film but in retrospect I think she has just the right amount of time, the lack of final satisfaction from it just about perfect. Like Scottie in Vertigo, K has fallen for a woman manufactured by someone else, designed to be fallen for--one of the hardest things about K's experience, though, is that there was nothing remarkable in the manufacture.
I'm fascinated that anyone would consider the relationship between K and Joi to be sexist because of what it says about the presumptions people make with their perspectives. K is a replicant in a relationship with a hologram--why should it matter what one does to the other, or how one treats the other? On top of that, both are fictional constructs of a movie. Of course it does matter, but only insofar as experience, or the sensation of experience, matters, and that's of course the whole point of the film.
The film has some flaws--there's some basic logistical problems in the dialogue, there are times when characters ought to be able to figure out some things a little faster. Sylvia Hoeks as the villain Luv is nowhere near as effective as Roy from the first film though perhaps she doesn't need to be. But the film's a visual banquet and performances from Ford, Gosling, de Armas, Wright, and Carla Juri are intricate and absolutely wonderful.