Sunday, October 08, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (spoilers)

The beginning of Blade Runner 2049 offers some quick titles to update the story. The Tyrell Corporation, responsible for manufacturing "replicants" in the original Blade Runner, has failed and the use of replicants as slaves stopped for a time. A tech baron named Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has since reintroduced replicants to the world, only this time they are designed to obey. No more inconvenient rebellions. A few older models like Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) still survive, but the profession of "Blade Runner" still exists too and the older replicants are being systematically hunted down and retired. All of this would be useful information if only Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve from a screenplay co-written by original Blade Runner co-writer Hampton Fancher, didn't forget about these facts so quickly. In the new film the Blade Runner in question is known as K (Ryan Gosling), and the filmmakers don't waste any time establishing him as a replicant. Although K appears to have some free will, he obeys his superior (Robin Wright) without question and appears to have no qualms about his charge to retire the older replicants. When K isn't working he goes home to a small apartment and a holographic girlfriend named Joi (Ana de Armas) who he brings with him via a sort of mobile hotspot. If replicants in 2049 are built as accessories for humans, then why are all the humans so angry at K? Why are there obscenities scrawled on K's apartment door? Most importantly, why did the makers of Blade Runner 2049 put a cipher with compromised free will at the center of this film? The conception of K plays into Ryan Gosling's worst tendencies to be stoic, but Gosling can't be blamed for the way the script keeps the film's level of urgency in check. Blade Runner 2049 is almost three hours long, and since K can only figure out the film's central mystery - the possible existence of a child born of two replicants - at the pace others allow him to that means that Villeneuve has plenty of time for shots of characters silhouetted against hazy backgrounds and K walking (very) slowly through abandoned cityscapes. Blade Runner 2049 gave me what I wanted from a Blade Runner film in terms of look and mood thanks to the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins and the other designers, but I got too much of it and not enough of what it means to be human in a world where humans come off an assembly line.

We are introduced to Jared Leto's Niander Wallace early on, in a scene where he inspects a nude replicant and then kills her because (it seems) she is incapable of bearing children. The plans Wallace shares with his replicant aide/enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks, who gives the film's most charismatic performance) involve another leap forward in replicant production, but they require the child that K has discovered was born 30 years before. Wallace doesn't return until late in the film, and while Leto's fussy performance isn't missed the character's absence makes it hard to remember what's at stake. K is also pursuing the child of course even though after a certain point people stop telling him to. In fact K lies to his boss about his progress on the case, a behavior that seems out of sorts with what we've been given to understand replicants are capable of. But again, no one is in a hurry. There's time for a sex scene involving K, Joi, and a sex worker (Mackenzie Davis) who seems a little too comfortable with replicants. Later K visits an orphanage where memories - possibly implanted ones - of his childhood are triggered. All of this of course is buildup to K's discovery of Deckard (Harrison Ford) hiding out in what I think is supposed to be a blasted out and empty Las Vegas. Ford, beautifully weathered and with a voice that sounds like the concept of roughness, adds a welcome layer of gravitas to the proceedings as he fills in the backstory of his relationship with Rachael (Sean Young) after the original Blade Runner concluded. If K and Deckard became partners at this point the story would have taken on some welcome emotional depth, but Deckard gets sucked back into the Wallace storyline and is mostly a passive figure in the final act while K - left alive for reasons that aren't clear - discovers the existence of a brewing replicant revolution in a subplot that goes nowhere. The ending of Blade Runner 2049 is satisfying for one or two characters, but it will shock those who appreciated the rigorous endings of Prisoners and Villeneuve's other earlier films.  The order of the world will go on for humans and "skin jobs" alike.

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