Doomsday Reels: Blade Runner 2049

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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The Director

Denis Villeneuve

The Actors

Ryan Gosling (KD6-3.7), Ana de Armas (Joi), Sylvia Hoeks (Luv), Jared Leto (Niander Wallace), Mackenzie Davis (Mariette), Robin Wright (Lieutenant Joshi), Harrison Ford (Rick Deckard), Edward James Olmos (Gaff), Dave Bautista (Sapper Morton)

The Trailer

The Cause


The Story

"Replicants.  After a series of violent rebellions, their manufacture became prohibited and Tyrell Corp. went bankrupt.  The collapse of ecosystems in the mid 2020s led to the rise of industrialist Niander Wallace, whose mastery of synthetic farming averted famine.  Wallace acquired the remains of Tyrell Corp. and created a new line of replicants who obey.  Many older model replicats - Nexus 8s with open-ended lifespans - survived.  They are hunted down and 'retired.'  Those that hunt them still go by the name... Blade Runner." - opening text  

The Rundown

Sequels to beloved classics are rarely a good idea and sequels to beloved classics and when a film's classic status is more of an aggregate score than a genuine perfect film it makes success even less likely. 

For better or worse Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien, Prometheus had been received like a concussive wet fart in a snooty French restaurant.  So naturally people weren't pumped when Scott announced not only another sequel to Prometheus, which would eventually transmute into Alien: Covenant (don't worry, I'll get to that series at some point) and a second Blade Runner movie.

First Ridley Scott was going to direct the movie himself until Neil Blomkamp's attempt to make a sequel to Aliens lit a fire under his ass to get Alien: Covenant made.  Director Denis Villeneuve signed on due to a script he liked and the movie was put into production.  Villeneuve's involvement assuaged some peoples' concern but the fact that the cast of the original film were all up in years, the prospect of a new story with new characters, and the fact that the trailers had a distinct Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps or Superman Returns vibe made the movie seem doomed to mediocrity.

I myself only managed to actually sit and watch Blade Runner (all three versions) with proper focus for the first time along with the short prequels (more on those in a bit) mere minutes before I drove to the theater to see Blade Runner 2049.  It turns out I didn't need to have the original movie fresh in my mind to appreciate the sequel but the big surprise was that this movie is really really good.  Now, to discuss this movie I basically have to spoil it so consider this a spoiler warning for the entire movie.

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Our hero is K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner who is for sure a replicant this time.  K is a new type of replicant that cannot disobey orders no matter what and we open the movie with him taking out one of his forebears, a Nexus 8 named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista).  After dispatching Sapper, K notices some flowers laid at the base of a dead tree and finds the corpse of a woman who died in child birth.  The kicker, the woman was named Rachael and she was a replicant.

This sends K on a quest to interview a long line of character actors in hope of tracking down and murdering the child at the behest of his human superior (Robin Wright).  The only problem is that Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), K's creator, wants whatever bizarre mechanism allowed Rachael to reproduce so that he can incorporate this into his own replicants and increase production.  He sends his enforcer, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to follow K and retrieve the child when he finds it.  Naturally the path eventually leads to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

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Blade Runner 2049 showcases everything that make Denis Villeneuve movies excellent.  The wide shots, the long silences, the stunning visuals, the casual brutality.  Visually the film is astounding, making wonderful use of colors and set dressing to put its own spin on the painting-quality aspect of the shots in the original movie.  There are certainly similarities between the look of this one and the original movie but Scott set most of his movie at night and Villeneuve sets most of his movie in the daytime, he uses harsh sunlight and snow where Scott used artificial light and rain.  There are night shots and there is rain but this movie still very much has its own aesthetic.

The story is thematically rich, even moreso than in the original it's a story where no one is good.  Everyone is shady and out for themselves, there is no good side for K to pick just ones that are worse than others.  It's a good foundation for a neo-noir, and this movie fits into that sub-genre more than its predecessor.  Blade Runner felt like a detective story but there was no mystery to solve, 2049 is very much a detective story.

Aside from the central mystery is of course the message at the core of the original movie: what is human?  Since we're seeing this story through the eyes of a replicant, one that is even more a member of a slave caste than his predecessors, it's pretty clear that replicants are humans now as far as the story is concerned but there's a new wrinkle introduced into that question.

K is married to a woman named Joi (Ana de Armas), Joi is an artificial intelligence that K purchased from the Wallace Corporation.  She manifests as a hologram of a woman seen as a 10 story tall naked living billboard all around the city.  Joi exists as a companion and moral support for K throughout the movie, working as a sounding board for his ideas and source of encouragement when he's down.

Now you may be making a face at that description and you'd be perceptive to do that.  Because there is certainly an undercurrent among the story of society's treatment of women.  Many have dismissed this movie as misogynist because all of its female characters (save perhaps Robin Wright's Lietuenant Joshi who merely has no onscreen male she reports to) are in positions of subservience.  Joi is K's sidekick, murderous and capable Luv is either afraid of or reverently hoping to please Niander Wallace, Deckard and Rachael's daughter lives in a hermetically sealed box away from all people and calls it "freedom."  There is misogyny in Blade Runner 2049 but I don't believe that it is embraced so much as it is shown.

Later in the movie when Joi is killed, K sees one of the giant holographic billboards for her programming and it interacts with him.  Based on this interaction with the most generic form of Joi's programming he sees aspects of HIS Joi in her speech and behavior and comes to realize that his Joi may have simply been a construct built to please him rather than a thinking organism in her own right.  He effectively created a cool girlfriend to agree with him and think he's special, a delusion that fuels his erroneous belief that he is the child of Rachael and Deckard and the chosen one meant to lead the replicants to a new dawn.

There's some really interesting ideas at a play but unfortunately this is a sequel to Blade Runner and the plot has to clunk over to fit into that story.  While we figure out that the dead replicant is Rachael pretty quickly, Deckard doesn't enter the film until an hour and a half into the movie when K finds him hiding out in an old casino in the middle of a radioactive wasteland.

How is Deckard you ask?  I wouldn't know, because he's not in this movie.  Harrison Ford is in this movie, that is unquestionable but more than that I cannot confirm.  Ford growls his way through his performance with his characteristic grumpy lethargy.  Everyone in this movie is dressed in some sort of somewhat futuristic garb but Ford is dressed in what appears to be a Hanes t-shirt and a part of sweat pants.  If you told me that Ford only signed on with the condition that he just wears whatever clothes he already had on then I'd believe it.

The movie asks little of Ford's performance but he somehow gives less.  He seems bored or fidgety and when he does talk its with a bewildered belligerence that seems to indicate he has no interest in making this work.  To his credit there are at least 3 instances of real genuine acting on Harrison Ford's part, and it really works, but there's nothing recognizable about the character of Deckard.  You can still see Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you can still see Han Solo in The Force Awakens, but there's not one bit of Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049.  It's not a huge deal since Deckard is little more than an extended cameo up until the end but seeing as he's one of the selling points of the movie it's a little disappointing.

Speaking of disappointing cameos, Sean Young is kind of in this.  Niander Wallace produces a clone of Rachael as an enticement for Deckard at one point.  This is actually the best Harrison Ford acting and second best Rick Deckard moment in the movie.  Rachael appears as she did in her introduction in the first movie, Deckard's look as she approaches isn't one of love or remembrance but horror.  I don't want to give Villeneuve too much credit here because I cannot confirm this was the intent of the scene but the way I see it, Wallace has miscalculated in giving Deckard this fetishization of their first meeting.  One doesn't fall in love with the version of a person they first met, they fall in love with who they discovered that person to be over a period of time.  Wallace doesn't understand this, he thinks Deckard loved Rachael from the moment they met but to Deckard this is just a hollow imitation of someone he came to develop real feelings for.  In the end he walks away, giving the lie "her eyes were green", as Luv puts a bullet in the replicant's head.  It's a great moment if it was intentional.

Now on the subject of Rachael, she appears via the much maligned 3-D de-aging software used in Tron: Legacy, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  The fact that Rachael appears in dim lighting does the effect some favors but she still looks rather plastic and fake, especially in motion.  Many complemented the effect but I personally think it looks markedly worse than even the Grand Moff Tarkin from Rogue One.  A side-by-side of the real and fake Rachael is below.

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Ultimately it's Blade Runner 2049's ties to the original movie that are its biggest flaws.  Even if Harrison Ford had been on his a-game, Deckard adds very little to the movie.  The mother could have been any random replicant and the movie would be all the better for the lack of baggage.

Having this movie become a sequel in the third act robs it of its previous importance.  All the world building with Joi is ultimately wasted.  Despite the fact that she's literally with K the entire time, she never meets or even speaks to Deckard or any other major character for that matter.  We're left with an overindulgent sex scene where Joi is super-imposed over the body of a prostitute (Mackenzie Davis), it's visually interesting but basically the same as a scene from Her.  Nobody really comments on K's A.I. wife and once she's gone it's barely brought up again.

Similarly Niander Wallace and a replicant resistance are built up as major figures only to not be important in the final act where K finally faces off against Luv to save Deckard's life so that he can see his daughter.  I will say that the payoff is worth it at the end but it seems like the bulk of the film's plot is taking place after the movie ends.  Similarly much of the world building done in the first hour in the half is squandered as the story resolves in a very small way.  I do respect the simplicity of this ending, not everything needs a big bombastic finish, but a lot of the false lead-up serves no purpose in hindsight and could easily be trimmed off.  Did we really need to see what Gaff (Edward James Olmos) is up to these days?

There is one specific thing about Blade Runer 2049 being a sequel that I do like.  The movie never makes reference to Roy Batty and his band of rebel replicants.  Some have said that the movie is unmoored without a Batty figure but there is a Batty figure in the film's protagonist.  Much as the original film was about a replicant gaining awareness of himself, meeting his God and finding him wanting, and then sacrificing himself the same can be said of K's journey.  He thinks he might be special in that he's a natural-born replicant, he goes to meet his God Deckard and finds him to just be a simple old man, and then sacrifices his life so that Deckard can go to his daughter as Batty did so he could go to Rachael in the original.  Ryan Gosling is no Rutger Hauer and if any movie supports the idea that he has a limited range and mostly acts by making weird faces it's this one, but K's crisis of faith and eventual resignation to his part in the order of things is the lynch-pin of the movie and it works amazingly.

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I love Blader Runner 2049, it is overlong but you really only feel that in hindsight, it doesn't drag.  I think that it's a really lousy sequel, but it stands on its own fairly well and as its own movie it's one of the best movies of 2017 hands down.

The Shill

Blade Runner 2049 is available on DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant.

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Next Time on Doomsday Reels

"We're in the wrong, you guys are right.  I mean, we made the chemicals to destroy the enemy and instead we made mutants and beasts; strange beasts like those found in prehistoric times of this planet."




Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 (2017)

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The Director

Shinichiro Watanabe

The Actors

Jovan Jackson (Iggy), Luci Christian (Trixie), Bryson Bauguss (Ren), Edward James Olmos (Gaff)

The Story

"While the Replicant Nexus 6 expired in inventory, Tyrell Corp. pushed the series 8 into the local and Off-world market.  The Nexus series 8 were purpose-built with a natural lifespan.  Soon the human supremacy movements began.  These angry masses used the Replicant Registration database to identify and kill Replicants." - opening text

The Rundown

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 is one of three short prequel films commissioned by Denis Villenueve for Blade Runner 2049.  This particular film, directed by Shnichio Watanabe (of Cowboy Bebop fame), is a story of how three replicants caused the great EMP event that made Rachael's records all-but-impossible for K to find in 2049.

It's a short and very simple story but the beautiful artwork and amazing animation really sell the film.  The stand-out character is Trixie, a pleasure model replicant who basically does all the things Pris would have done in the original film had the budget been larger.  Her deadly acrobatics are a big selling point for the film.

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All of these shot films are pretty pointless, they largely feel like deleted scenes from an act of the movie that never existed but the novelty of the animation and of seeing Shinichiro Watanabe work in the Blade Runner universe (aesthetically, Cowboy Bebop owes a lot to the original film) make this one enjoyable.

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2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run (2017)

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The Director

Luke Scott

The Actors

Jared Leto (Niander Wallace), Benedict Wong (Lawmaker), Ned Dennehy (Magistrate), Ade Sapara (Magistrate), Ania Marson (Magistrate)

Dave Bautista (Sapper Morton), Gaia Ottman (Ella)

The Rundown

2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run are short prequel films directed by Ridley Scott's son Luke Scott who did similar films for both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant and directed the poorly-received Morgan.

The first details how Niander Wallace got the license to make new replicants after they were banned following the blackout of 2022.  The secend fleshes out the charater of Sapper Morton a little bit more and reveals how K got the information needed to find him.

While both films are pretty inconsequential, one dealing with a minor detail glossed over in the opening text and the other revealing a scant few more details about a character who dies in the first scene, I prefer 2048 simply because I find Dave Bautista to be a charming up-and-comer and I'm getting tired of Jared Leto's shit.

Niander Wallace is a chore in the main film but an almost uninterrupted five minutes of Leto haltingly rhapsodizing sets my teeth on edge.  You don't need either of them but 2048 is the better of the two.

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