The Horror Honeys: Franchise the Future: Reinventing the Replicant in 'Blade Runner 2049'

Franchise the Future: Reinventing the Replicant in 'Blade Runner 2049'

A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review with Katie

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.
It’s been 35 years since audiences were first able to experience Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi epic Blade Runner (1982) on the big screen; since that time, there have been no less than seven differently edited renditions of the same film, including iterations known as the U.S. Theatrical Cut, the Director’s Cut, and the Final Cut. Depending on which version you choose, many plot points are over-explained (by way of Harrison Ford’s dry voiceover narration), or many more unanswered questions are raised (is Ford’s Rick Deckard truly a replicant, or not?!). No one film since Scott’s, however, has revisited the original source material from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and created a follow-up in the form of a remake or sequel that expands the world of a blade runner and the replicants he’s employed to “retire.”

Enter visionary French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, a contemporary of Scott’s particular brand of cinematic sci-fi who has created astonishing worlds in his own right in cerebral dramas Enemy (2013) and Arrival (2016). Blade Runner 2049 takes place in nearly as many decades as we have been removed from Scott’s cyberpunk classic, yet the end product feels like a natural extension of the original film’s ambitious imagery and ideas. As an experiment in turning a beloved genre staple into a far-reaching franchise, Villeneuve more than proves his worth as an auteur capable of rocketing the Blade Runner saga into the distant cinematic future.

Gosling as 'K,' blade runner of the future

Set in a dystopian 2019, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner followed police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) through a decaying Los Angeles to hunt down four rogue cyborgs, known as replicants, and “retire” them permanently from existence. The replicants themselves were seeking to confront their creator, the head of the Tyrell Corporation (Joe Turkel), in a quest to extend the pre-programmed four-year lifespan of their ‘NEXUS-6’ model – a lifespan designed to prevent the development of a wider range of emotions, which would thereby make slavery-born replicants dangerous to humans. In Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, this replicant evolution appears to have occurred; not only is it more difficult to tell a replicant from a human, but the limitation on the natural lifespan of the newer ‘NEXUS-9’ model is unclear. The blade runner of 2049, known only as ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling), is dispatched to investigate growing unrest in the replicant community and a possible rebellion that could lead to war. Along the way, he encounters Deckard (Ford still in all his grizzled glory, reprising his role from the ‘82 film), and an unsavory plot from a new evil corporate boss, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Side players include K’s supervisor, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), Wallace’s indentured assassin, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), and K’s cybernetic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas).

Someday we can all visit the museum of Replicants.

Blade Runner
‘82 was a visually sumptuous feast for the eyes, and Blade Runner 2049 is similarly stylized to awaken and excite every sensory experience with all the technology available in the film industry of today. Villeneuve’s world-building is a skilled appropriation of Scott’s vision, updated to reflect how the original film’s dystopia would have evolved (or de-evolved, as the case may be) in the 30+ years since we visited this bleak, rain-soaked, neon-streaked Los Angeles. 2049’s Los Angeles looms against a backdrop of skies ravaged by decades of environmental decay and towering technicolor advertisements and is embedded in an even thicker melting pot of world cultures. Some of the film’s outlying farm and desert settings resemble an otherworldly Star Wars or post-apocalyptic Mad Max aesthetic that broadens the scope of the original Blade Runner’s confines within the claustrophobic city. The story, likewise, is a natural extension of the world brought to screen in Scott’s original adaptation; Villeneuve even enlisted one of the screenwriters from the 1982 film, Hampton Fancher, to collaborate with Logan (2017) screenwriter Michael Green to bring 2019 Los Angeles to 2049. They learned from some of the deliberate obfuscations of Scott’s story and let viewers know almost instantly who is and is not a replicant, including one major character early on, while also answering other questions in due time. Despite showing his hand more often than Scott’s film did, Villeneuve still manages to elicit a few third-act surprises out of what could have been a paint-by-numbers retread of Blade Runner’s human/replicant dynamics.

In the future, advertisements will really touch you. Literally.
While Villeneuve is a formidable and appropriate choice to be handed the Blade Runner baton from Scott, 2049 is by no means a perfect film and may be challenging for some viewers seeking an action-packed peek into the future. With a $150 million-plus budget and a nearly three-hour runtime, in addition to the added pressure of following up one of the most lauded science fiction cult classics of all time, the expectations for critics and audiences alike seem to be set alarmingly high from the get-go. The protracted runtime occasionally hampers forward-motion for the plot, especially where certain actors are concerned; the increasingly insufferable Jared Leto stands out amongst an otherwise stellar cast as a scene-chewing villain up against the reliably solid leading man quality of Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s charismatic predecessor, Harrison Ford, may appear onscreen too late for some rabid fans looking forward to how Deckard’s role was heavily advertised in the film’s promotional material. Too much and simultaneously not enough time is devoted to K’s relationship with Joi, a character who appears at first to be a futuristic gimmick for the flashier qualities of the film’s trailer, but then is given a sentimental resonance akin to Samantha of Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). The film could have gone even further in an ideological direction with a more in-depth exploration of romantic relationships between humans, replicants, and advanced forms of technologically-engineered beings who have the capacity to fulfill both physical and emotional desires.

Deckard is back, bitches!
Though Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is brimming with allegory and lofty philosophizing (who could forget Rutger Hauer’s “tears in the rain” monologue?), the film is arguably remembered most for its influential visual style: a mashup of pulpy high-contrast light and darkness with a neo-punk vibe. While Blade Runner 2049 carries on that visual tradition, the most interesting thing about Villeneuve’s update is the evolution of the replicant and their existence reflecting back on the human condition, something that can be further developed should the franchise continue. Despite its flaws, Blade Runner 2049 is an excellent example of a filmmaker stepping back from one of his most well-known works to hand the reins to an exciting new voice in cinema eager to lend a fresh perspective to a venerated work of art. Scott should have followed his own example with Alien: Covenant (2017) and allowed District 9 filmmaker Neill Blomkamp to make the Alien sequel he wanted; instead, we are privileged to experience Villeneuve’s impressive take on Blade Runner, which will carry us through 2049 and beyond.

Gosling's lost Chinatown audition

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: 4 beautifully killer replicants out of 5