A Visually Stunning Ozymandias


Title: Blade Runner 2049

Rating: 3 Stars

First, the good stuff. Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning. I knew that this was the last weekend that it’d be playing at the Cinerama, which has the largest screen outside of IMAX around here.

I was not disappointed. The West Coast in the year 2049 is a ruined wreck. Los Angeles extends its squalid buildings for all the eye to see. San Diego, now a dump, is completely engulfed by mountains of garbage, with ever more pouring in. Flashy Las Vegas is now a contaminated dead zone, with shattered remnants of hotels, casinos, skyscrapers, and statues defiantly thrusting themselves up through the wasteland.

At ground level, there is no sun to be found. The city is always overcast and wet. Outside the city, all is barren and gritty in what appears to be a perpetual sandstorm.

Clearly some ecological disaster has occurred here. Despite the film taking place thirty years after the original Blade runner (which itself is interesting, we’re just two years away from 2019, where’s my fucking replicant?), clearly society is still kind of just hanging on here on Earth. This is very much a dystopian future.

Apparently, the new creators of the replicants tried to learn their lessons from their antecedents. The latest generation of replicants are designed to be obedient. The new blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling) is himself a replicant. As a replicant, his job is to retire older model replicants.

In so doing, he discovers a box full of bones. The bones are identified as being female and of having died in childbirth. What makes this a shocking discovery is that the female is proven to be a replicant.  Replicants are not designed to be able to become pregnant, so if this turns out to be true, then this could cause a revolution if not a war between replicants and humans. Replicants are essentially treated as slaves. The ability to give birth would give them the notion of having a soul.

K is given the orders to hunt down the child (if alive) and kill it. As he investigates he discovers that the dead woman is actually Rachael, the replicant from the original Blade Runner film that Deckard (Harrison Ford) falls in love with and eventually runs away with.

K then tracks down Deckard as part of his efforts to find the child. From here on out, spoilers abound, so watch the film yourself if you really want to see how it ends.

I guess the first question that comes to mind is, why was this film made (other than obvious profit motives)?

To me, what made the first Blade Runner so successful was the ambiguous behavior of the replicants vs the humans. The humans are all pretty much beat up and tired. On the other hand, Roy (Rutger Hauer) is vital and alive. In this dark world, it’s the replicants that are the most human. From characters like Roy, you can also see the desperate yearning to be human. They are so close yet they understand that they’re missing some fundamental essence that they’ll never have.

Here, K knows that he’s a replicant. He’s under no illusion. He blindly obeys his superior officer. It is only after it becomes clear that he might actually be Rachael’s long lost child that he begins to rebel. To the replicants being born implies the concept of a soul. The fact that he might actually possess a soul inspires him to behavior that he would normally never contemplate.

Also interesting is his relationship with his VR live in girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas). Their relationship is doubly synthetic. He’s a replicant and she is simply a VR illusion of a woman. Yet, even so, their relationship acquires a poignancy.

The film, as in the original, calls into question the nature of reality and of humanity. Does a natural born human possess a different essence than a bio-engineered human? Do natural born humans take our gift for granted and squander it?

So, why only three stars? First of all, I’m not sure if the philosophy of Blade Runner is really advanced that much in Blade Runner 2049. It still seems to be addressing the same questions and providing the same ambiguous answers.

The pace was, to say the least, languid. Clocking in at 2 1/2 hours, it could have been a much tighter movie. This seemed to be one of those films where they discovered so many cool effects that they just couldn’t help themselves and jammed them all in, even if not necessary for the story.

One of the drivers of the plot was Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who is some genius who saved humanity from famine and has taken over development of the replicants. He needs to figure out to make replicants reproduce so that he can meet the future demands. Neither the character nor this plot was interesting or compelling.

And yes, women don’t fare too well in this movie. A number are murdered, another is a prostitute, another is a VR fantasy, and yet another is your standard female high kick murdering henchwoman. The VR Joi plays into the fantasy that somehow a fake perfect woman is better than a real woman with all of her complexities.

If they’d trimmed even 20 minutes out of the movie, it’d have been a much tighter movie.


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