You kids today have no idea how great you have it.
Back in the 80s, the world was a very different place. There was no Internet, so you got all your entertainment news from TV, magazines or (gasp) actually physically hanging out with people. If you missed an episode of your favorite TV show, you were screwed until summer re-runs. And if you wanted to see Blade Runner, good luck. It was in theaters seemingly a week, and the video store only ever had one copy and it was always fucking gone.
Also, early VCRs were the size of a well fed toddler, with lots of moving parts and sharp edges. So when I finally saw Blade Runner not only was it confusing and dull, but sadly we also lost Kevin to the rewind suction.
For years after, I’d heard whispers of a version that wasn’t confusing and dull. But unlike today you couldn’t just go online, find a torrent and within minutes download the movie you want plus an horrific Russian virus. You had to wait until college. There, you’d meet hundreds of people from all over the world, eager to introduce you to things like Frank Zappa, absinthe and the long rumored No Bullshit Cut of Blade Runner.
I saw it, I loved it, and have continued to worship that film ever since.
But of course, the idea of a sequel was preposterous, right? Despite having since been anointed a classic, Blade Runner was not a financial success. And it took time for critics to come to love it the way they have, since a decent version of the film didn’t see the light of day for a whole decade.
The original film takes place in the near-future dystopia of 2019 (there’s still time), when the environment and the economy have largely collapsed. Most animal and plant life is extinct, while massive corporations and genetic engineering firms control all the wealth. The Blade Runner universe exists at a technological level that branched from ours sometime in the mid-eighties. There are flying cars and 300 foot high interactive holograms, but the whole “computer internetworking” thing got skipped.
The miniaturization and personalization of consumer electronics really wasn’t more than a niche concern either, what with that whole “post-apocalypse” thing going on. Citizens of this world mostly spend their time trying to stay alive, fed, and if possible dry. The American and Asian economies seem to have merged somehow, and what industry exists is supported by Replicants, lifelike androids designed to replace human hands wherever humans found the work distasteful.
Things like general sanitation, asteroid mining, and obviously prostitution. And the benefits go primarily to the privileged.
Blade Runner toyed with the ramifications of this. The weird thing about Replicants is that they’re given enough intelligence to understand what they are, which is slaves. If you’re thinking “well, that doesn’t seem like a good idea” you are right, and would also probably make a good dictator. So to keep Replicants from organizing revolts, they are given a four-year life span. When that fails, they are banished from the Earth entirely.
The punishment for returning is that a police officer called a Blade Runner will hunt you down and shoot you in the face.
Now I don’t know why, if you had the ability to manufacture your own slavebots, you would even give them the option to hate their work. I also don’t know how making your entire army of future insurgents indistinguishable from humans is a good idea. How could that not turn out poorly? But there famously are many things about Blade Runner that didn’t get fully explained.
That’s where the sequel comes in. Originally, officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was a Blade Runner assigned to hunt down four of these so-called “skin jobs” and “retire” (murder) them. He spends most of the film getting his ass kicked, but along the way he falls in love with a very special Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young). She’s even more human than human™, which the grizzled detective finds sexually irresistible.
By the end of the story, Deckard has learned some valuable lessons on what it means to be human, and it causes him to make a fateful career decision. Fast forward thirty years.
A new Blade Runner, simply named “K” (Ryan Gosling) is assigned to “retire” a rogue Replicant called Morton (Dave Bautista), which he does. But in the process, K discovers the remains of a female Replicant who appears to have died in childbirth (their bones have serial numbers, you see). Since Replicants are not supposed to be able to breed, and human-slavebot relations are a historic lows, K’s boss (Robin Wright) isn’t anxious for this information to get out.
K is ordered to locate and “retire” the child, a task which he undertakes with the resigned precision you’d expect out of a quality appliance. This leads him to the Wallace Corporation, an unimaginatively named replacement for the original film’s Tyrell Corporation. Its owner, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has taken over the production of Replicants, and is confounded by his inability to build them fast enough to meet humanity’s need to expand off the ruined Earth.
If only there were some way for Replicants to reproduce faster…
That’s right – Wallace has such a vested interest in K’s investigation that he assigns the sadistic Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), his personal bodyguard, to keep an eye on the Blade Runner and make sure whatever is found falls into the…”right” hands.
This probably sounds like a rather garden variety police procedural with a futuristic twist, and it kind of is. But Blade Runner: 2049 is almost three hours long. This is more than just another dumb movie about space-cops, and it uses every damn one of those minutes to weave a beguiling narrative which turns out to be less than meets the eye – and this is a good thing.
Like Deckard before him, K’s is a journey of unexpected personal growth, by way of travel across the bloated hellscape of a world in rapid decline.
What begins as just another assignment begins to tug at whatever shreds of humanity reside within K, and he begins to wonder about his own origins. He shares these doubts with his live-in holographic maid/girlfriend (Ana de Armas), a puzzling hooker who may or may not be a Replicant herself (Mackenzie Davis), and the enigmatic woman (Carla Juri) in charge of designing the false memories used to placate Wallace’s android workforce.
What we find, as we did in the original, is a society filled with lingering stagnation and death. But it’s also one where our antagonist has unknowingly been tasked with rooting out the one bit of emerging life. It’s not clear exactly what the rules of this world are, but I could easily imagine it being one where rank and file civilians have given up providing for themselves in favor of being as comfortable and entertained as possible while everything crumbles around them.
Everyone seems completely fine with the idea of having willfully created a sub-class of servants every bit as human as we are, except they’re not acknowledged to be. If you want to view that as allegory for the perceived social inequities in our own world, you probably should because at this rate, we might not make it to 2049.
Of course, we use poor people instead of slavebots, so its totally different!
The only real criticism I have is that as you can tell from the poster at the top, Harrison Ford appears in the film. I really wish they’d not announced that, because his appearance (and the role he plays in the story) would otherwise have been at least a mild surprise. Also, Leto’s character feels strangely under served. If nothing else, Wallace would seem to represent both the united angst of a race facing extinction, and the vainglorious need many powerful men have to remake the world in their image.
It just never goes anywhere.
That’s all fine though. Blade Runner: 2049 remains an amazing, majestic, spellbinding work of art that shouldn’t exist, because I didn’t know they were allowed to make movies like this anymore. Like the original this is a work of almost programmatic depth, designed to sprout ancillary thoughts and emotions in your head during the experience.
The look, feel, sound, shape – everything here is right on the money if you are a fan of the original.
I could go on for another 1500 words, because there are still a dozen things in my notes that I’ve forgotten to mention. Just do yourself a favor and if this sounds like your kind of film, stop reading this immediately, and GO SEE IT.
Do it for Kevin.
When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Bruce?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."