Much more ambitious than the original cult classic, Blade Runner 2049 is a contemplative science fiction that expands the universe of that film

Blade Runner 2049 (film)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Di­rect­ed by De­nis Vil­leneuve. Screen­play by Hamp­ton Fanch­er and Michael Green. Sto­ry by Hamp­ton Fanch­er. Star­ring Ryan Gosling, Har­ri­son Ford, Ana de Ar­mas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Macken­zie Davis, Car­la Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dast­malchi­an, Barkhad Abdi, Hiam Ab­bass, Wood Har­ris and Ed­ward James Olmos.

Re­leased in 1982, Blade Run­ner has be­come a cult clas­sic for a num­ber of rea­sons, es­pe­cial­ly for be­ing a per­fect hy­brid of thought-pro­vok­ing sci­ence fic­tion and neo-noir that nev­er un­der­es­ti­mat­ed the strength of its ideas. Based on Philip K. Dick­’s dystopi­an nov­el Do An­droids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep?, it pre­sent­ed a bleak view of the fu­ture in which em­pa­thy would be the only hu­man char­ac­ter­is­tic that could not be de­tect­ed in bio­engi­neered an­droids — or repli­cants. But di­rec­tor Ri­d­ley Scott went even fur­ther, dis­solv­ing this dis­tinc­tive line be­tween those two types of sen­tient be­ings so that he could ques­tion what em­pa­thy means in a world where hu­mans act like mon­sters and repli­cants could be­come more hu­man than us.

35 years and nu­mer­ous re-cuts lat­er, the doubt still re­mains: is Rick Deckard a repli­cant or not? Does that mat­ter? The an­swer to this sec­ond ques­tion lies at the core of Blade Run­ner 2049, a wor­thy se­quel that ex­pands the ideas pro­mot­ed in the orig­i­nal film and cre­ates some­thing even more com­plex. Di­rec­tor Den­nis Vil­leneuve (Pris­on­ers, Ar­rival), who has now be­come one of my fa­vorite film­mak­ers at the mo­ment, re­fus­es to cater to the ex­pec­ta­tions of a main­stream pub­lic and trusts his au­di­ence to fol­low what he wants to say, of­fer­ing us a most­ly con­tem­pla­tive fol­low-up that may not be ex­act­ly in­ven­tive from a for­mal point of view but is more chal­leng­ing than its pre­de­ces­sor in the way it ques­tions what de­fines us as humans.

Writ­ten by Hamp­ton Fanch­er (co-re­spon­si­ble for the orig­i­nal) and Michael Green (Lo­gan), Blade Run­ner 2049 takes place 30 years af­ter the events of the first movie. The Wal­lace Cor­po­ra­tion re­sumed the le­gal pro­duc­tion of repli­cants in 2036 (14 years af­ter a ma­jor Black­out made them il­le­gal), in­tro­duc­ing a new mod­el of Nexus‑9 repli­cants that look as close to hu­mans as pos­si­ble and are in­te­grat­ed into so­ci­ety to obey us. K (Ryan Gosling) is a Nexus‑9 LAPD blade run­ner who “re­tires” an old mod­el and finds the re­mains of a fe­male repli­cant who died of com­pli­ca­tions from a C‑section — a shock­ing dis­cov­ery that plunges him in a mis­sion to find both the child and Deckard (Har­ri­son Ford), who has been miss­ing for 30 years and may still be alive.

The first thing that is ev­i­dent when you watch Blade Run­ner 2049 is Villeneuve’s al­most solemn re­spect for the orig­i­nal film, giv­en the way he re-cre­ates the same uni­verse con­ceived by Scott with its bar­ren, life­less land­scapes. We see the same gloomy cy­ber­punk Los An­ge­les whipped by con­stant rain and dom­i­nat­ed by sky­scrap­ers, red and blue neon lights, mixed lan­guages, noise pol­lu­tion and huge LED ad pan­els for Sony, Coca-Cola and Atari (!) Even the score wants to em­u­late Van­ge­lis’ mu­sic with its syn­the­siz­ers, de­spite nev­er be­ing as mem­o­rable (in fact, it is the film’s weak point). The vi­su­al ef­fects, on the oth­er hand, do stand out, com­ple­ment­ing the uni­verse by in­tro­duc­ing top-notch high tech that is a lot more ad­vanced than before.

But al­though Vil­leneuve doesn’t dare so much in terms of vi­su­al in­ven­tive­ness, he com­pen­sates with some stun­ning sets, like the ru­ins of San Diego as a trash dump — with its scav­engers and or­phan chil­dren that re­mind­ed me of Mad Max — and, of course, the ra­dioac­tive re­mains of Las Ve­gas boast­ing gi­gan­tic stat­ues bathed in or­ange light. When K reach­es an aban­doned ho­tel in Ve­gas, we see a con­cert hall where a flick­er­ing holo­gram of Elvis still sings Can’t Help Falling in Love, in a score­less fight scene that works as an un­set­tling dis­play of fu­tur­is­tic deca­dence. Still, my fa­vorite set is the daz­zling palace of Wal­lace Corp in the old Tyrell pyra­mid, with a lot of yel­low and danc­ing wa­ter-like waves pro­ject­ed on the walls.

More in­ter­est­ed in the char­ac­ters, Vil­leneuve also ex­plores their moral am­bi­gu­i­ty in a vi­su­al way, like when he cov­ers the low­er half of K’s face with the tall col­lar of his dark green coat or makes him sit in the dark wait­ing to re­tire a repli­cant. Ryan Gosling, by the way, does an ex­cel­lent job as an ap­a­thet­ic man who is in a re­la­tion­ship with a holo­gram, Joi (Ana de Ar­mas), con­vey­ing a gamut of mixed feel­ings that emerge once K starts to re­al­ize that his im­plant­ed mem­o­ries might be real. And even more re­mark­able is the qui­et way that Deckard ap­pears, with­out the fuss of a big rev­e­la­tion, as an old­er man who moves us with the com­plex­i­ty of his feel­ings and the dif­fi­cult choic­es he had to make to save those he loved.

And if, on one hand, Joi is charis­mat­ic and makes us share her sad­ness for not hav­ing a real body, the repli­cant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter di­vid­ed be­tween her feel­ings and her duty to her mak­er — which we no­tice from her shak­en ex­pres­sion when Wal­lace (Jared Leto) kills a new­ly-ac­ti­vat­ed fe­male repli­cant. Thus, it is only per­fect that she wears a white suit with clean lines that lat­er re­veals black on the in­side and red un­der­neath when she drops the po­lite act and ex­pos­es her dan­ger­ous in­ten­tions to a hu­man. Wal­lace, in turn, wears a black ki­mono-like robe like a samu­rai, and I love how he is framed in one key scene as a god, with the yel­low light on the wall be­hind him like sun­light com­ing out of his head.

As an ex­is­ten­tial look into what dis­tin­guish­es us as hu­mans, it is in­ter­est­ing to ob­serve how Blade Run­ner 2049 is told from the per­spec­tive of an ac­qui­es­cent repli­cant who be­gins to have feel­ings — as op­posed to the first film, in which a cold hu­man had to fall in love with a repli­cant to be con­front­ed with how rel­a­tive things ac­tu­al­ly are. This time, Vil­leneuve seems to be ask­ing us: if two dif­fer­ent be­ings reach a cer­tain evo­lu­tion­ary stage in which they can be con­sid­ered vir­tu­al­ly iden­ti­cal — even if those feel­ings are en­gi­neered — wouldn’t it be safe to say that they be­come alike? Are pro­grammed feel­ings or those pro­voked by fab­ri­cat­ed mem­o­ries un­re­al?

If the dif­fer­ence be­tween hu­mans, repli­cants and holo­grams turn out to be only nu­cleotides and bi­na­ry dig­its, what would dis­tin­guish hu­man feel­ings from syn­thet­ic ones? Well, noth­ing, the film seems to ar­gue, since those feel­ings are real for those who have them, re­gard­less of where they come from or what they are made of. Even hu­man feel­ings are an­chored in mem­o­ries that are nev­er en­tire­ly real, but fil­tered by our emo­tion­al re­sponse and con­nec­tion to our ex­pe­ri­ences. And this is what makes K’s de­ci­sion so mean­ing­ful in the end, when he fi­nal­ly un­der­stands that it is our choic­es what makes us “hu­man” af­ter all.

El­e­vat­ed by amaz­ing vi­su­al ef­fects — which should be re­mem­bered in the Os­cars es­pe­cial­ly be­cause of a haunt­ing three­some scene and a jaw-drop­ping mo­ment when an old fa­mil­iar face reap­pears look­ing just as young as 35 years be­fore — Blade Run­ner 2049 may not be ground­break­ing or a mas­ter­piece like the first film, but ex­pands its uni­verse and mythol­o­gy to a new lev­el. If Blade Run­ner is be­com­ing a fran­chise now, then I will love to see more of it.



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