|Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is singled out for seduction by a larger-than-life size hologram. Blade Runner 2049 takes the original's dystopian future and makes it relevant to the here and now.|
Blade Runner 2049 Expands on the Original's Big Question: "What does it mean to be Human?"
"The World is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there's no wall... You bought a war" - Lieutenant Joshi, AKA: Madam (Robin Wright) to K
Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of spectacular. A dystopian science fiction updated for the future humanity is creating for itself. It simultaneously pays tribute to the original while expanding on the key themes of climate change, concentration of corporate power, and what it means to be Human.
We enter the story in Los Angeles, circa 2049. There is fog, endless rain, and snow. As with the 1982 original, a pulsing electronic soundtrack sets the mood. Everything is meant to ratchet up feelings of dread and a loss of control. The fact that Blade Runner's sequel depicts snow in Los Angeles shows just how much irreversible damage human beings have done to Earth, to say nothing of the damage people deal each other here.
Many of the elements from the 1982 original are faithfully recreated here and updated accordingly. The taciturn Detective whose body language and facial expressions do most of the talking. Dialogue straight from one of the old school hard boiled Detective novels. A Villain who represents the monolithic power corporations have in this future world. And the settings - the golds, yellows and deep shadows of his stronghold recall the Tyrell Corporation of old.
In the first few minutes of Blade Runner 2049 we are introduced to Agent K (Ryan Gosling). He is one of a number of new Nexus 8 Replicants. These obedient models were created after corporate food titan Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) salvaged the Tyrell Corporation's remains. Apparently Tyrell went bankrupt after too many of the original Replicants - sent 'off world' to do slave labour - killed their masters.
There are still a few of the older model Replicants out there. Creations that look human, but were created in laboratories. Some of them come with pre-programmed expiration dates, after which they will die. Others have no such date and can live on indefinitely.
Like Rick Deckard before him, Agent K is a Blade Runner. A division of the Los Angeles Police Department whose members are assigned to track down and kill rogue Replicants. K doesn't speak very much, though as brought to life by Ryan Gosling he doesn't need to. Sadness is written all over his face. Loneliness too.
K's girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) is a 2-dimensional hologram. We learn from seeing advertisements later in the movie that Joi is just one of thousands of such programs. No real lovers for the working man in this darker future - the idea of one will suffice.
This review will not give much of the plot away, save for a bare outline. In pacing and structure Blade Runner 2049 hits a home run. There are 3 Acts:
Act 1) Introduction of the Problem (involving Replicants, of course) and the Principal Characters
Act 2) Fleshing out the Characters - their wants, needs, and what makes them tick. Main characters begin trying to solve the central Problem
Act 3) Action building to the climax and denouement
Of course, there would be no problem or dramatic tension without a worthy villain - and Blade Runner 2049 gives one to us.
Niander Wallace is a man of incredible wealth who, the plot suggests, helped save humanity from starvation after he patented new ways to farm food. Mainly protein in the form of Worm farms. After buying up what remained of the Tyrell Corporation, Wallace set about creating his own Replicant workforce. With his beard and soft speech, Wallace could be the anti-Jesus. He who gives life, and just as easily takes it away.
Leto's character is a symbol of the concentration of corporate power. In 2049 the very few have so very much. Wallace lives in a temple-like structure complete with a showroom packed with older Replicant models. His focus is on giving Replicants the ability to procreate - thus giving humanity a disposable workforce to take it to the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond. He refers to his creations as Angels - making explicit what the original only hinted at. Think along the lines of Satan being tossed from Heaven and falling to Earth.
Like any evil boss worth his salt, Wallace leaves the work of maiming, killing and intimidating to his Personal Assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). She is herself a Replicant. There is something unsettling about watching Luv do her evil creator's bidding. There is a sense of steely control, and also a simmering rage barely kept in check.
If the character of Luv represents hate and all its associated negative emotions, then Joi represents what is still right with the world. During one scene she and K share a moment in the rain. K has bought a device to liberate Joi from the confines of their shared apartment. For all of Joi's 2-dimensionality, there is real feeling whenever these two share the screen.
Which brings me back to the movie's central question: "What makes us Human?" Do memories make it so? Or is it in our Genes? Or is it simply as Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) says near the film's end: "I know what's real."
I won't give you any of the answers here. Though Blade Runner 2049 certainly guides us toward them in a more definitive way than its predecessor. Go see this one. It's a special sequel indeed to equal the power of its namesake.
Welcome to the Future.