Review: Blade Runner 2049

Cinema: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

*Massive spoilers so don’t read if you haven’t seen the film*

Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, sent on a job to execute an old Nexus 6 Replicant (Dave Bautista), who knowing he is about to be retired, reveals that he has seen a miracle. Intrigued, K searches the area and what he finds leads him on a journey to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a fugitive Blade Runner who disappeared 30 years before.

I don’t have to review this film, but I feel I need to. Blade Runner is probably my most watched and favourite film, and when I heard it was being revisited I cringed, and then rejoiced as Denis Villeneuve was approved as director by Ridley Scott (hurry up and approve Neil Blomkamp to take over the Alien franchise). Denis directs with heart (watch Arrival) and spectacle, and is written by original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher, so I felt it was in safe hands.
I knew absolutely NOTHING about the story. I had watched no trailers, had read nothing and didn’t even know Jared Leto was in the film until the week before, so I was looking forward to watching it in Imax 3D. Fortunately the 3D does work, there is real depth to it and no ‘coming at you’ shots. The yellow haze around Vegas is like a sickness, while the urban vistas feel even more crowded than in Blade Runner. It’s still raining.

The sound is amazing, not quite Dunkirk good, but nearly and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is sublime, taking the themes and feel of Vangelis’ original, then lightly brushing it to make it fluffy again. You would in truth think that Vangelis was holding his hand as he recorded it. The booms and spurts that echo across the industrial landscape and far away advertising cries are the same as the original, marry this to the trill of the synth and it enables the connection from Blade Runner to Blade Runner 2049 seamlessly in musical atmosphere.

The star of BR2049 is the visuals.
Yes, I know this film has achieved 5 stars across the board from all critics, and is being rejoiced already as better than the original and a true classic. I myself give the look of this film a full 5 stars and the sound 4 and a half stars, but I’m afraid I can’t give it the full whack of 5 as a whole.
No film is perfect, and it would take an amazing effort to surpass the original film, it would have to look great (tick), sound great (tick) have a great story (ummm….nope no ticks to be had, maybe a scribble) and be entertaining (I give it half a tick, Dave fell asleep). I have, since seeing it, read that the story surpasses the original because it is ‘simpler’, this is true, it is a simple story, let’s have a look.

SPOILERS – Set 30 years after the original BR and years after a ‘blackout’ – 10 days of darkness that wiped digitally stored replicant-production records, creating a blank space in humanity’s database memory. Agent K is sent by his boss Lt Joshi (Robin Wright) to retire Nexus 6 survivor Sapper Morton (Bautista) who lives alone. Sapper tells him he has ‘seen a miracle’. Before K leaves he notices a flower next to a tree. For some reason he decides to find out what’s buried UNDER that tree (why would he think that flower was associated with the miracle?). Under the tree is a box; in the box is a Nexus skeleton that has died having an emergency caesarian. It is the remains of a female replicant who has given birth. Joshi attempts to suppress this news of a miracle (Sapper’s miracle) and orders K to find and kill the child (who must now be 30) to avoid there being a ‘war’. Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) is some sort of blind billionaire scientist in the vein of Tyrell, but with added evil. Wallace’s help/henchwoman (a replicant) Luv is ordered to find the child/man/woman, because Wallace wants to breed replicants (surely that would put him out of business?). There are also a LOT of mentions of ‘Being more human than human’. Let me pause.
This is essentially a story about what it means to be human.
Is empathy enough? Is this a story about evolution? That the next phase is bioengineered beings that are now classed as human because they can reproduce? What defines us? Feelings? A womb?
All these questions could be passing through Ryan Gosling’s mind, but I’m not sure as the look on his face can only be described as….blank, with a touch of dewiness. He is, to his very core, unsure if he is a replicant or if HE himself is the miracle and is in fact, Deckard’s son. He feels this because of a ‘childhood’ memory. Was this memory real or implanted? WHO implanted that memory? And why K?

I have sat and thought about this film because I did like it, but I wanted to like it more and feel like I’ve missed something all the critics seem to be getting apart from me.

I did think with the introduction of Carla Juri as Dr. Ana Stelline (the memory inventor/placer) was purposeful, look at her, then look at a photo of Sean Young (Rachel – the now dead Nexus model who gave birth to the child) with her hair down. Ana is undoubtedly Rachel’s daughter (surely it wasn’t just me that saw that?) also Ana tells K it is illegal to implant a real memory into a replicant, she saw his memory and she knew it was her own real memory. Why did K, out of all the replicants/Blade Runners have that memory implanted? Why does Ana stay silent? She knows he is searching for something, she knows she is the answer (the memory is of a child running away from a gang and hiding a toy, a wooden horse (instead of an origami unicorn). K later visits that place looking for records of the child, recognises it and then finds the real toy, still hidden where ‘he’ had put it as a child).
Through his implanted memories K begins to believe he may be the lost child, and when Ana confirms it’s illegal to plant real memories, he is convinced that he is human and he is Deckard’s son. He is the miracle. Human, born of replicant.

Ahhh, this linear story told at an exceptionally slow pace has thrown up a lot of … Huh’s?
Ryan Gosling wanders through the film rather vacantly, I do like him and I suppose he is supposed to be a replicant, so is spat on, called a skin job and hated by humans. Undergoing regular word-association tests to prove he is .. unfeeling? Like a reverse Voight Kampf test, K begins to fail the test as he doubts his own being, he tells Joshi ‘I never retired anything that was born’ and ponders the soul. This existential anxiety wants to be a major theme, but with Gosling as K, his angst is slightly ‘vacant’, and Luv’s tears of existentialism are plain confusing.

K lives in a tiny bare apartment, similar to Deckard’s in size. His only solace is Joi, his ‘Her’ like computer generated companion. She is a 2 dimensional character in form and personality, beautiful to look at, made solely for men’s pleasure.
And here for me is one major problem with this film: the depiction of women.
Perhaps Las Vegas in the future will be filled with huge semi-clad, massive pert breasted, Korova Milk bar type sex statues. Mouths open waiting for a cock to be rammed in. Maybe not.
One could assume that this depiction of women reveals a future of a morally bankrupt future society where women are disenfranchised and their only form of empowerment is their bodies and what they can get in return for them (Joi, Mariette) or the necessity to act like a man and be killed for it (Luv, Joshi). This film seems to be re-entrenching female stereotypes, despite all the existentialism and angst.
More human than human…unless you’re a woman.

Joi isn’t real and we see this several times, the background visible through her, and although Ana de Armas is breathtakingly beautiful, she is as transparent as her character. Her hiring a prostitute to ‘wear’ in order to pleasure K is a bizarre moment. Is this more proof that although she is a hologram, the fact that she ‘feels’ and has emotions makes her human? Are the holograms and replicants self-aware? I suppose the answer to this is yes they are, because K’s longing to be human appears central.

Sylvia Hoeks as Niander’s henchwoman Luv cries several times, but then (looking a lot like Toni Basil) kills in a total bitching kick ass way. More human than a psycho killing machine with no feelings, is she programmed to cry at certain times?
She kills Joshi and a single tear falls down her cheek. How can she feel regret at killing Joshi when she is on an assignment to kill a miracle being? My first and only view and gut feeling, the women in this film apart from perhaps Wright, appear have no real purpose or place other than being stereotypes…including the statues. But that’s a whole other essay. Even the introduction of another Rachel, made especially for Deckard, ends abruptly and violently when Deckard reveals her eyes are the wrong colour. Luv blows Rachel’s brains out right there and then. There are no tears (in the rain), she is disposable.

The introduction Of Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard two thirds of the way through the film is welcome, and he plays Rick as a man in hiding; grizzled, faithless and perhaps the only character in this film with any depth. At this point the languid, relaxed telling starts to gallop along a bit and we find ourselves back in Niander’s watery batcave (pretty, but no Tyrell Tower). He tells Deckard that Rachel was made to love him; it was all planned by Tyrell. The end game being he would get Rachel pregnant. She never really loved him. He was nothing more than a stud.

Argh, so many plot holes.
Was it all planned from the start?

The thing is, people who like BR, don’t just ‘like’ it, they LOVE it, and I fear as time goes on they too will start to question the most fundamental parts of the story. Like this revelation about Rachel and Deckard. The parts don’t fit. Did Tyrell plan the whole thing, Leading Deckard to Rachel?
Here’s the big one for me.
Deckard according to Ford is Human
Deckard according to Scott is a replicant
If he IS a replicant, does that mean Tyrell engineered a him specifically to impregnate Rachel with special replicant sperm? Now that sounds silly, I know, but think about it. Robot sperm? Really? And I could even nitpick and go into the whole premise of BR1 – was it all a set up to make them run away, so Rachel would be impregnated?
Or, is he human, and has human sperm, so Rachel would need a womb, and some eggs – Job done.
THAT makes more sense, sort of?

At a recent showing of BR1 Scott and Villeneuve argued over Deckard, Scott again reiterated that he is a replicant, while Villeneuve stated he was maybe a human.
This is Villeneuve’s baby now, and in his world, Deckard wasn’t shooting blanks.
But whatever the answer, I think we will never know. It’s just too confusing, and I can’t allow myself to take it at face value. It’s far too important to just accept and it’s such lazy storytelling.

So in a nutshell, a beautiful film that is to me, somewhat empty of story and heart. Pondering humanity can be told with a simple story, this isn’t it though, and the reason for that is when you scratch the surface, the parts don’t slot in.

I will of course buy it when it comes out on 4k just for the look of it and perhaps with time to watch again and ponder I will grow to like it more.

Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With)