Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
The big reveal in the original “Blade Runner” is that our hero, Deckard (Harrison Ford), who is tasked with hunting down and “retiring” four renegade and superpowerful androids, or replicants, including their charismatic leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), is himself a replicant. We find that out, obliquely, in the movie’s final scene.
The big reveal in “Blade Runner 2049” isn’t that the new blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling), is a replicant, since we get that in the first scene. No, the big reveal—halfway through the film—is that he’s the offspring of Deckard and the beautiful replicant Rachael (Rachel Ward). In other words, he wasn’t formed as an adult in a lab; he came out of a replicant’s womb. In other words, replicants can reproduce.
Then the big reveal is: Naw, that wasn’t him. The true offspring is someone we met in the first act.
The power of the original “Blade Runner” is that the renegade replicants, Nexus-6 models, have a short shelf-life, four years, because their maker, the Tyrell Corporation, and specifically Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), feared that after this period they would develop human emotions and do the awful things humans do. But it's also the point where they develop empathy. You see it in Roy Batty’s eyes and manner as he’s pursuing Deckard in the film’s final scenes. He’s beginning to feel for him. He even saves his life. Then, sitting in the rain, and dying, he says his famous last words, which are like poetry:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost ... in time ... like tears in rain.
Time to die.
So because we fear the worst in us, we kill off our creations just at the point they are revealing the best in us. Nice.
The power of “Blade Runner 2049” is... um...
I first saw the original a few years after it was released, when I was living in Taipei, Taiwan, and it was a vaguely surreal experience: watching a film set in 2019 Los Angeles, where it’s forever rainy, crowded, and Asian neon signs hang everywhere, and going out into the streets of Taipei, where it was rainy, crowded, and neon signs were everywhere.
I wasn’t a huge fan, by the way. It didn’t help that I may have been making out with a girl while watching it so missed clues like the unicorn dream that revealed all. Either way, I didn’t get it. When I watched it again this week, October 2017 (the future!), I liked it a little more, but overall it’s still too atmospheric for my taste. Plus the Deckard/Rachael relationship is ... Hollywoody? Plus the star is a nothing character. Sorry, it’s Rutger Hauer’s show. I did like our evolving feelings about the movie’s villains. They’re terrifying, yes, but also interesting, and finally heroic.
The villains in “Blade Runner 2049”? Just villains.
There’s an unstated joke in the new movie and it goes something like this: About two years after the dystopia of the first film, things got bad. Some event occurred, a virus or something, and all data was lost, and so ... I guess new replicants had to be built? Also nothing could be grown so we’re eating grubs? Also it stopped raining and started snowing.
The new Tyrell is Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who seems more replicant than the replicants in the movie. We see him in darkened room that’s like a sensory deprivation chamber. He’s got that white eyeball Master Po thing going, so I assume he’s blind. Like humanity? He also speaks...slowly and...quietly.
K’s job, like Deckard’s before him, is to retire old-model replicants, and as the movie opens he does this at a California farm. Outside, he discovers a dead tree, and a date carved into it, 6-10-21, that gives him a start. Beneath the tree they discover a box filled with bones: a woman who died in childbirth but had a Caesarean section. Except not a woman, a replicant. Wallace IDs the bones as Rachael’s.
Even as the hunt is on for more clues, the powers-that-be have divergent interests. The police, in the form of K’s boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), want to suppress the info so (I imagine) the few people on Earth don’t freak. Meanwhile, Wallace wants to know how this happened—he figures replicants reproducing will be good for his bottom line—so he dispatches Luv (Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks), all black bangs, impassive face, and occasionally furious eyes, to gather intel and kill people.
The replicants are second-class citizens here, virtual slave labor, avoiding eye contact with humans. At the same time, K is allowed an apartment with a holographic woman, Joi (Ana de Armas), who greets him, nurtures him, etc. The apartment thing is curious, though. Why don’t they just unplug the replicants like with Robocop? Whose need is being met with the apartment? And just what percentage of the population is replicant? If you go by cast, it’s a lot. Mostly, we’re just watching replicants interact with replicants.
In his investigation, K visits an old factory/orphanage, which corresponds exactly to a memory he’s had implanted in him, of running from bullies and hiding a toy wooden horse with the date 6-10-21 carved in the bottom. (That’s why he started earlier.) He finds the toy and takes it to Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a memory designer, who tells him two things: 1) replicants can’t be given memories from humans; 2) his memories are real. Meaning he’s The One.
Yeah, “The One” again.
Anyway, the horse leads him to the ruins of Vegas, where he fights with, then drinks with, Deckard (Ford, of course), older now, and as embittered as ever. But Luv and her team find them, kidnap Deckard, and leave K for dead. He’s then rescued by the rebellion, who tell him the child born to Deckard and Rachael was a girl. From earlier clues, K surmises it was Dr. Ana Stelline. But why would she implant her memories into him? I still don’t get that part. Also, what is Deckard doing in Vegas? I like the holographic Elvises and such, not to mention his whiskey-drinking dog, but...does he have company? Ever? Is he just waiting for his final act?
In the movie's final act, K kills Luv, rescues Deckard, and reunites father and daughter before dying on the steps outside her institute in the snow—like Cagney in “The Roaring Twenties,“ but without tracing his rise-and-fall arc, and without the pietá.
A lot of people are giving director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario,” “Incendies”) credit for recreating the artistic, ponderous atmosphere of the first film—but I'm obviously not a fan of that atmosphere. A few times here, waiting for shit to happen, I nearly drifted off. As for the question that began this review? I don’t see any real power to ”Blade Runner 2049." Time to die.