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:Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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Blade Runner 2049
Release Date:  October 6, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures
Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto
Music:  Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
Director:  Denis Villeneuve
Rated R

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

Blade Runner 2049 has a lot of strikes against it.  It’s long (almost three hours), it’s dark, it’s complex, it’s rated R, and the preview doesn’t tell you anything about the movie except that it’s definitely not a comedy.  To compound matters, more than one viewing with time in between is probably best in order to absorb and digest it.  Blade Runner 2049 is as much a process as it is a movie.  I saw it in the theater on opening weekend on a Saturday afternoon.  The seats weren’t even half full and judging from the t-shirts and ages of the audience, the truly devoted, the core audience who saw Blade Runner in theaters and then endlessly watched various cuts and versions over the years, is the same audience for Blade Runner 2049.

While seeing the original Blade Runner is not essential to understanding this one, it certainly helps and you should watch it first.  The world of both movies is one in which there are different models of replicants with various lifespans and agreeability that are virtually indistinguishable from humans.  Agents are sometimes needed to track down and “retire” (i.e., kill) rogue replicants.  K, a replicant, a blade runner whose assignment is to track down and retire undesirable replicants, discovers the bones of a deceased replicant.  Through forensic examination, the LAPD realizes that the deceased replicant gave birth, which is impossible or so everyone thought.  K then works on tracking down the child. 

The movie is as much about K trying to find the naturally born replicant as it is about K trying to find himself as he works on figuring out the meaning and determining the authenticity of a specific memory he has (replicants are given implanted, false memories to make them more human).  Also, K has a relationship of sorts with Joi, a holographic projection who functions as his girlfriend.  The slogan of the company that produces and sells her is “See everything you want.  Hear everything you want.” That K even wants companionship might be something of a surprise, but that’s the thing about replicants:  they are very human.  This subplot is as interesting as the larger plot and if the movie’s extended length allowed for explorations such as this, I have no complaint.  (By the way, if this plotline intrigues you, check out Her about a man in a romantic relationship with an intelligent operating system.)  Matters become increasingly complicated as K relies more and more on Joi for clarity and guidance.  We must wonder if her thoughts, ideas, and feelings are simply the result of her programed directives, or if she gains independent consciousness and awareness.

There has been a long-standing question of whether Deckard is a replicant or not.  Figuring this out depends on which version of Blade Runner you watch, and who you want to give more authority to:  Phillip K. Dick who wrote him as human in the original novel, Screenwriter Hampton Fancher who wrote Deckard as human but wanted to create the possibility of him being a replicant, Harrison Ford who thinks—but may have changed his mind according to Ridley Scott—that Deckard is human, or Ridley Scott who says Deckard is definitely a replicant.  Blade Runner 2049 enlarges the debate.  Some say that because we see an aged Deckard this is proof he is human.  But this may be a misreading.  There exists a series of replicant, the Nexus 8, that ages and does not automatically terminate like the Nexus 6; following the timeline of production releases, Deckard could be one of the models from the Nexus 8 series.  Or he could just be special like the replicant that gives birth.  The point—and the fun—is that we still don’t know.  One reason people love the film so much is that this summary barely even scratches the surface of the debate. 

Harrison Ford gives a fine performance, but my theory is that his inclusion is to help make connections to Blade Runner and give Blade Runner 2049 some extra star power.  We should give special consideration to Jared Leto in the role of Niander Wallace who manufactures replicants.  Leto seems to be on a personal quest to make each character he plays more distinct than the last.  He succeeds again.  And Robin Wright is icily marvelous as Joshi.

For those who have seen Blade Runner, there are connections between it and Blade Runner 2049.  Besides having an advantage in understanding the back story and knowing some of the characters, viewers will appreciate that although we branch out to some desert regions, the basic world operates and looks the same.  The city landscape matches especially well between the two films.  Gaff has a cameo.  The running theme of sight and eyes continues.  And, of course, Blade Runner 2049 continues to silently ask the biggest questions of all:  what does it mean to be alive and how do we know if we are or not?

Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 will be a slow burn, a movie that will gain viewers and then fans in the years and decades to come, fans who will vehemently debate which version—like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 will probably have a theatrical, director’s, and extended cut—is best and passionately discuss the film’s nuances and philosophical underpinnings.

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