Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Another teal and orange movie poster. A series of scenes that are assembled to make nostalgic fans aware that, yes, the cantankerous star of the original will return. However, nothing in the poster, the trailers or the promotion provided any information on what this movie would be about - much less how a sequel could be made to a movie that depicted a world that was now just two years in the future and far from on its way to what was shown 35 years prior.
Blade Runner showed us the world of 2019. Flying cars patrolled the urban canyons of a Los Angeles where the penthouses of the elite and the giant corporations that controlled the world, and the other worlds humans were retreating to in order to escape their dying planet, loomed above the city and caught what little sunlight made it through the thick, yellowish, barely breathable air. We had developed synthetic humans, known as Replicants, for slave labor and cannon fodder, and it was up to special police called Blade Runners to "retire" them if they ever set foot back on Earth.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was supposedly the best, but he fell in love with a newly created Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) and fled with her. They were eventually pursued, but never found - until 2049 when her bones were discovered by a new generation of Blade Runner nicknamed K (Ryan Gosling). Ironically K is a new form of Replicant that can live a normal lifespan as long as he behaves himself and remains obedient to his human masters. His job is to hunt down the old Tyrell Replicants, which ended with the Nexus 8 series, and who ultimately did openly rebel against humanity. Tyrell Corporation was purchased by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who was also instrumental in creating new farming techniques that barely staved off worldwide famine.
It is found that Rachael, rather than reaching whatever her expiration date may have been, died of something Replicants should not: childbirth. This revelation leads to K being given orders from his boss (Robin Wright) to destroy any evidence that this happened in order to keep the current Replicants from getting ideas that they are truly living beings, while Wallace sends his own lead Replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to find out what happened to the child with hopes of being able to start breeding slaves rather than manufacturing them. With the help of his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana De Armas) K eventually tracks down Deckard, and in the process finds out more about the world he was forced to live in.
Hampton Fancher, who cowrote the original Blade Runner, is back again, this time with Michael Green. Ridley Scott originally was going to direct, but those duties eventually went to Denis Villeneuve, which was one of the main selling points. Like Scott Villeneuve is great at visual story telling, but unlike Scott he is also good at dealing with the human characters rather than just having them serve the visuals. This time we do get to see more of the world outside of Los Angeles, particularly the ruins of San Diego and Las Vegas, and get a broader sense of just how bad things have become on Earth.
As for that, there is no attempt to go back and change the years or retroactively adjust anything. At this point the world of Blade Runner is portrayed as not part of our future, but an alternate future where a worldwide blackout in 2021 destroyed many of the digital records of the time, and where the world is filled with a weird blend of '80s technology combined with unimaginable advances and a human race that has continued to expand into the galaxy, largely with the help of Replicants. There is the same gulf between the haves and have-nots as in the original, just seemingly without as many haves, and without most humans caring as they at least have the basics of food and a roof over their head. Their hatred seems largely aimed at Replicants who hold a number of jobs humans used to have.
Although Harrison Ford, as promised, does show up as Deckard, he doesn't do so until the third act is almost over and even then knows that this is Ryan Gosling's movie and, wisely, doesn't try to take it from him. Gosling for his part carries it, making K very much human without having to add on the contingencies that other Replicants seem to need to realize their place in the world. He spends his time searching for meaning despite the fact that few humans, much less Replicants, find that in the world. Ana De Armas is quite charming as his girlfriend, who although originally a simple holographic image meant to mimic human responses becomes seemingly self-aware, thus once again blurring the lines between what is a real human and what is not.
Unfortunately, it does reveal the average maturity of many of the viewers that the focus of many amateur reviews is on a supposed threesome between K, Joi and a Replicant prostitute named Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). If this is what someone watches the movie for they will be highly disappointed, since though it is a visually well-done scene it is not sexually graphic. The reason I bring it up is because it seems like review after review of Blade Runner 2049 is, "The threesome was interesting, but the movie was slow and boring." Granted, if a fast-paced movie is what the viewer wants to see, then they should be looking elsewhere, and I would ask how they ever made it through the original Blade Runner if this is an issue. This may be longer, but it has more story and better pacing than the original, even if it does lack Rutger Hauer or the visual impact of seeing Ridley Scott's version of Los Angeles for the first time.
Looking at this as just another corporate sequel is wrong, but in the end it failed at the box office. It was presented as an action film, much as the original was, and like the original many people were not happy about suddenly sitting through an art film. Blade Runner was a movie that gained an audience over a long period of time, and through various revisions, and Blade Runner 2049 was made for that audience and, this time, we see the director's vision played out the first time.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Time: 164 minutes
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto
Director: Denis Villeneuve