REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049 [2017]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 163 minutes | Release Date: October 6th, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Denis Villeneuve
Writer(s): Hampton Fancher and Michael Green / Hampton Fancher (story) /
Philip K. Dick (characters Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

“Because you’ve never seen a miracle”

Survival is a selfish endeavor, but not necessarily one driven by ego. On the contrary, survival is often a selfless means to place community ahead of the individual. Look at our country’s current, abhorrent divisions along lines we should have erased decades ago or never created in the first place. As long as privilege exists and one race, gender, religion, et al holds power and sway above the rest simply because it fears relinquishing its place atop the “status quo,” rebellion is only a single instance of courage away from sparking. Dismiss a people for too long and psychological beatings turn physical until blood must finally be spilled to remind both sides that we all bleed red. To suppress an identity is murder. To erase memories is genocide.

These notions were behind Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner and its police state with synthetic humans known as replicants being hunted in the streets to “save the populace” from their inherent violence—because defenseless creatures who’re only fighting back against an oppressive regime that refuses to let them live in peace and freedom rather than as slaves are the violent ones and not the “Gods” seeking to silence those they’ve made too well in their image. The film used science fiction to depict a 2019 not unlike the world of today circa 2017 wherein some barely bat an eye as the lifeless bodies pile up. As soon as you declare yourself better, your opponents automatically become lesser. To not understand how that evolves into human versus non-human is naïve.

We’ve watched it happen elsewhere from the safety of home, blinded by democracy’s idyllic fantasy as though it alone would combat the greed and exploitation rising within a climate driven by fear. And now it’s here. A war is waged while most Americans sit on social media pretending they’re on the front lines—inciting anonymous, malignant bile over the internet that could snowball and get people killed simply out of boredom and a desire to make oneself chuckle. Those who demean, clutch prejudice to their chests, and work tirelessly to provoke point fingers at the retaliation and scream “Monsters!” before the entitled born with the privilege to join them realize who really fired first. Exterminate the enemy and history can be rewritten so no one will ever know.

This is what brings us to Hampton Fancher‘s (along with Michael Green) pathway towards a sequel to Philip K. Dick‘s original conceit as adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? As humankind eradicates replicants, their superiority is reinforced: longevity, not strength. A skin-job might be able to rip the heads off five assailants before its own is blown off, but one less of its finite species is a victory compared to five less of a bottomless army. And with replicant creator Dr. Eldon Tyrell dead—his inventions too much trouble to outweigh their benefits—those that remain must hide in order to stave off extinction until a revelation can provide hope: a child. Procreation was humanity’s sole advantage. Level that playing field and the tide permanently turns.

Enter KD6-3.7 or “K” (Ryan Gosling). He’s one of the latest replicants as crafted by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), an eccentric entrepreneur who filled the void left by Tyrell’s demise. Wallace perfected the model’s design by ensuring its beholden to its keepers—coded to hold human life above its own. K is therefore championed by his superior on the police force (Robin Wright‘s Lieutenant Joshi) and reviled by coworkers and the public at-large. His sole means for companionship is therefore a hologram (Ana de Armas‘ Joi), their love for one another built through experiences shared above either’s core programming. Does he yearn to be a “real boy?” Yes, but only as far as it fits the parameters of his job killing the few obsolete models still in exile.

It’s on one of these missions—to “retire” Sapper Moon (Dave Bautista)—that everything changes. He finds the bones of a replicant long since buried with signs of having died during childbirth. Here’s evidence of the impossible, the type of powder keg that could incinerate the world if it hadn’t already been drowned under waste and radiation. Wallace’s right-hand Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) must discover the truth about what happened and the whereabouts of this “miracle” so her boss can finally crack a problem he has been unable to solve. Joshi needs to find this offspring to destroy it so replicants won’t awaken to the knowledge they are more human than human rather than less. K is therefore in the middle, the detective unearthing clues that render objectivity forfeit.

He’s being used so whatever he reveals can be wielded as a weapon much like he and his fellow replicants already are. But every new discovery changes his allegiance. His inability to lie fades and his impression of humanity alters upon acknowledging their deviation towards hunting born creatures as opposed to only killing those manufactured. It’s not about unbreakable code being broken as much as motivations utilizing that code in a different way than initially intended. If the core distinction between humans and replicants is the process of their creation and suddenly that line blurs, the brain must reconcile the discrepancy. Either those K has already killed were definably human after all or those who’ve been giving him orders have proven through immorality that they no longer are.

So while synopses will reductively state Blade Runner 2049 is about a cop searching for the long-exiled Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), that’s not true. Deckard is involved in K’s case and can supply answers no one else could, but he isn’t the target. The whole film is instead about finding the aberrations that make us special. It’s about finding this miracle child—a Holy Grail with the power to unite or declare peace untenable. And whether or not this child exists, the prospect of something so impossible causes everyone to question who they are and what they will become. It forces humans to choose whether or not they’ll relinquish their humanity to retain control and replicants to wonder if they’re truly more than they’ve been led to believe.

And there’s no one better to helm this complex story of identity and purpose than Denis Villeneuve. He’s proven he’s a director that cares about characters above plot, actions and consequences above the scenarios demanding reaction. And he’s shown a propensity for contemplative pacing throughout his career whether science fiction (Enemy and Arrival) or gritty moral drama (Prisoners and Sicario). Combine his patience with Gosling’s stoicism and the gorgeously mammoth visuals in construction and environment shot with impeccable austerity by Roger Deakins and you receive a work of art that demands interpretation and introspection despite its own clearly defined progressions. It may not differ too much from the original in themes or goals, but it’s evolved its metaphor to impact this generation like its predecessor did the last.

Alongside the hope of the marginalized, Fancher and Green’s script also highlights the hubris of the entitled. It could be periphery threads of prostitution wherein women prey upon the lustful blind spots of powerful men to glean information and usurp power in plain sight or the assumptions that software cannot corrupt hardware much like parents forget nurture is as important as nature. These two examples and more show the volatile dynamics in play and ultimately reveal the strength found in rebellion alongside the complacency born from unearned confidence. The more you reject equality, the more you become the one who doesn’t deserve it. As white supremacists, jingoistic nationalists, and sanctimonious Catholics refuse to bend, adapt, or empathize, those they seek to destroy and disavow awaken as the majority.


photography:
[1] Copyright: © 2017 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT, LLC Photo Credit: Stephen Vaughan Caption: (L-R) HARRISON FORD as Rick Deckard and RYAN GOSLING as K in Alcon Entertainment’s action thriller “BLADE RUNNER 2049,” a Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment release, domestic distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures and international distribution by Sony Pictures.
[2] Copyright: © 2017 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT, LLC Photo Credit: Courtesy of Alcon Entertainment. Caption: (L-R) ANA DE ARMAS as Joi and RYAN GOSLING as K in Alcon Entertainment’s action thriller “BLADE RUNNER 2049,” a Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment release, domestic distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures and international distribution by Sony Pictures.
[3] Copyright: © 2017 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT, LLC Photo Credit: Courtesy of Atomic Fiction Caption: (Center) MACKENZIE DAVIS as Mariette in Alcon Entertainment’s action thriller “BLADE RUNNER 2049,” a Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment release, domestic distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures and international distribution by Sony Pictures.
[4] Copyright: © 2017 ALCON ENTERTAINMENT, LLC Photo Credit: Stephen Vaughan Caption: JARED LETO as Niander Wallace in Alcon Entertainment’s action thriller “BLADE RUNNER 2049,” a Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment release, domestic distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures and international distribution by Sony Pictures.

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