July 20, 2019
Blade Runner 2049 – US, 2017
When we last saw Rick Deckard and his Replicant girlfriend, Rachael, they were in some American countryside and Deckard’s voice was telling us that Gaff’s prediction of a short life for Rachael had been erroneous; at least, that’s what viewers thought was true until those gorgeous panoramic views and Harrison Ford’s last monologue were exorcised from the film and replaced by a more noirish ending, one of Deckard and Rachael getting into an elevator, on the run and headed toward an uncertain future. Oh, and those later versions also hinted that Deckard was a Replicant, a possibility that I always found preposterous. In any event, by the time its “sequel” was released, the Final Cut was being touted as the official version of the film, and many fans had come to believe that Deckard and Rachael were of the same maker.
Fast forward to 2017, a year plagued with sequels and remakes. There was Wonder Woman, Logan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, War for the Planet of the Apes, another Thor film, Alien: Covenant, the third incarnation of Spider-Man in just over 15 years, and yet another nauseous ride on Pirates of the Caribbean, so of course there had to a sequel to Blade Runner, never mind that it had been 35 years since the original film hit theaters or that sequels to films that old did not have a good track record at the box office. (Anyone remember The Rage: Carrie 2, The Odd Couple II, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps or The Two Jakes?) By then of course, a sequel could not just be a sequel. No, it had to also be a reboot and to kick off the franchise for the next generation. It had to have newer, younger, better looking characters that could then carry on the franchise after all the remaining legacy ones had been killed off.
In hindsight, what we get in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is logical, but while it is not in the same vein as Dwayne Johnson’s appearance in The Mummy 2, the bait-and-switch employed in the marketing of Blade Runner 2049 still stings. See, for the film’s first hour and fifty minutes, Harrison Ford does not make an appearance, and after a brief scene of fisticuffs with Ryan Gosling’s younger Blade Runner, he doesn’t have much to do except require rescuing. In other words, Blade Runner 2049 is not your father’s Blade Runner.
In the film, Gosling plays “K”, a blade runner who is also a Replicant. See, it turns out that a man who has apparently never seen a science fiction movie about this sort of thing later decided to market Replicants that are programmed only to obey, which might seem like a good idea had it not already proved disastrous in the first movie. But I digress. The film follows K as he investigates the mysterious claim of a fellow Replicant, played by Dave Bautista, to have witnessed a miracle. That marvelous event is later revealed to have been the birth of a child by a Replicant, the repercussions of which could be catastrophic for humanity as it would start a war between Replicants and humans that could lead the mass extinction of human beings. Seeking to avoid such an outcome, K’s boss (Robin Wright) quietly orders him to destroy all evidence that such a child exists. Gee, I wonder if he’ll do it.
And wouldn’t you know it, the mother of the baby just happens to be named Rachael. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Just where have I seen this before? Well, for starters, there’s V, The Fly II, The X-Files, and the recent re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. But here’s an even crazier thing. The birth seems to undercut the whole “Deckard is a Replicant” storyline because nowhere in the film is it explained how two Replicants could produce a child. In fact, we’re even told that the creator of the newest generation of Replicants has been trying for years to give them the ability to give life and failed. So, the magic formula must involve a human being, right?
Speaking of the creator, one Nainder Wallace (Jared Leto), I should mention the sheer lunacy of the character. The opening scroll refers to him as having saved humanity from a famine, yet when we finally see him, he spouts off the kind of maniacal dialogue that we have long grown accustomed to hearing from cinematic villains who simply must tell people things they already know. And he must present his villain credential in entirely unrealistic ways, a la Blofeld’s henchmen in Spectre, who proves he’s worthy of the job by killing a fellow villain in front of a crowd of approving baddies. Here, he creates a new Replicant only to kill it a second later because it does not have the ability to give birth, and before you ask, yes, he knew this before he did it, and yes, he narrates his actions the entire time.
And while I’m on the subject of odd details, I can’t help mentioning the city that featured so prominently in the first preview for the film. That was the one in which K walks through a dusty abandoned city looking for Deckard. The city, it turns out, has so much radiation that it is virtually abandoned. When the bad guys arrive looking for them, they exit their flying vehicles wearing masks, yet there’s Deckard, living there for who knows how many years and never, it seems, wearing anything resembling standard radiation protection. The guy’s simply indestructible.
Perhaps, as is true with the last two Star Wars movies, audiences will enjoy the film more if they haven’t seen Blade Runner. Then, they won’t see the similarities between K and Rutger Hauser’s Roy Batty, Rachael and K’s girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), and Eldon Tyrell – the original creator of the Replicants – and Niander Wallace. While not carbon copies of each other, they have enough in common to explain the occasional sense of déjà vu.
If there’s one aspect of the film I was fascinated by, it was K’s relationship with Joi, for it expands our understanding of love and its possibilities. Every time the relationship was explored, I was fascinated by it. Here are two things, one physical and one virtual, that find in each other a reason for being beyond their programmed duties. They demonstrate the ever changing nature of AI technology and illustrate that all things have an unmistakable need for companionship, even if they are not sure what to do with it when they find it. It is a reminder that love’s boundries are continually breaking, giving rise to something that often transcends space and tangibility. I could have watched an entire movie on their relationship.
Alas, that is not the film we get. Instead, we get one that never quite justifies its existence. We certainly didn’t need to know what Deckard was up to thirty years later, and while the film is well-acted and technically accomplished, nothing we see seems novel anymore. We’ve seen the depressing sights of a utopian society, we’ve watched films that ask us to reconsider our long-standing views on love, and we’ve seen someone race to find a child said to be the key to the world’s future. What we haven’t seen is the fate of Rachael and Deckard. Check that. We thought we did. Now we see the official updated version, and to tell you truth, it’s all a bit narratively underwhelming. (on DVD and Blu-ray)
2 and a half stars