The Future Gets An Update In 'Blade Runner 2049'
By Devvon Eubanks
When considering the the word "detective," several pop culture touchstones come to mind. Sherlock Holmes. CSI. Batman. It is a profession of precision, analysis, and detail which can determine the outcome of a criminal investigation. And in Ridley Scott's 1982 "Blade Runner," we got a new detective worth rooting for in a gritty noir atmosphere, along with a fantastic story. At the time, this sci-fi gem was far beyond what anyone would have thought when considering the future, and characters like Officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) made the narrative and world feel dynamic and authentic.
Honestly, it was a film I didn't really appreciate. Its unusual pace and theoretical concepts about how "replicants" and "blade runners" operate in the universe felt too odd to me, and the abrupt ending left me a bit confused and craving more. But after three decades, "Blade Runner 2049" is here, featuring an emotionally captivating tale and further details to bring a more immersive experience to the screen. And while some issues from the original still exist, they make sense in the context of this film, and I can finally understand the original world that Ridley Scott created.
Directed by Denis Villenueve, this new chapter takes place 30 years after the 1982 film. Officer 'K' (Ryan Gosling) is a Nexus-9 replicant (an enhanced cyborg) working as a "blade runner" for the Los Angeles Police Department. In essence, his job requires him to hunt down and "retire" any rogue, older model replicants that the LAPD deem a threat to society. While out on an assignment to kill one of the rogue machines, K discovers a box hidden underneath a dead tree near a compound. After discovering the remains of an old Nexus-7 replicant, a forensic analysis shows that this machine was given an emergency C-section before its death. This information shocks K's superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), as replicant births are thought to be impossible. Ordered by Joshi to find the child and kill it, K starts an investigation which leads him from the Wallace Corporation-an organization which produces replicants and is headed by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)-to the outskirts of Nevada, where he encounters a shadowy figure related to these past events.
"Blade Runner 2049" is a masterful spiritual successor to the original, now passed from Scott to Villenueve. As such, it carries a similar level of pacing and plot structure, which is meant to feel more like a detective novel than a film. If viewers didn't enjoy the slower pacing or scientific theories of the first movie, they will not find this new chapter very endearing, despite the updated visuals and technology. Honestly, I would argue that there's a benefit to the pacing, because there are a lot of details that help us understand this new Los Angeles and what has transpired over the decades. Replicants are given more of a definition, the viewer is shown more of the desolate wasteland outside the mechanical LA cityscape, and this world is given more depth, delving into the core of the LAPD and the Wallace Corporation specifically. Essentially, this is a film that focuses on presenting a gripping story using emotional characters in an adeptly creative universe.
The action also meshes well with the events and pacing. These scenes are quick, engaging, and deadly, showing the immense, bone-breaking strength of the replicants and gun battles that leave searing holes of bolts and melting flesh in victims.
Due to the film's design, the narrative cannot exist by itself. Rather, it complements the 1982 movie, and neither can be fully valued without the other. The viewer has to watch both films in order to make sense of this universe and its details. Otherwise, it's hard to appreciate the pleasurable complexity and in-depth story.
Meshing expertly with the environment and narrative, the characters of this film also exhibit a great level of depth. Ryan Gosling does an excellent job as K, who as a replicant designed to obey orders, hardly shows any emotion or zeal. However, he has a certain level of freedom and shows a candid affection, mainly towards his personal AI partner Joi (Ana de Arms), a product of the Wallace Corporation. Joi caters to K like a housewife, but is also a fervent companion capable of caring, conversation, and protection. You would think that an odd coupling of machine and AI would not be capable of deep passion, but the connection between these two is well-played and heartwarming.
Additionally, Leto's Niander Wallace is another noteworthy character. As the successor to Eldon Tyrell and the Tyrell Corporation of the last movie, Wallace is a visionary who seeks to create a more advanced species that will rival his greatest creations and obey humankind without fault. Adorning pale grey eyes and a divine, Christlike appearance and demeanor, Wallace is a chilling character who gives off a more commanding presence than Tyrell. Finally, Harrison Ford also returns as Deckard and gives another stellar performance. Because of this varied level of character development, the world of “Blade Runner” is more vibrant, gritty, and realistic, gripping the audience until the end credits.
The result is a masterpiece of cinematography and artistry. The Blade Runner series is able to question the nature of reality and the role of humankind, while also challenging complex principles of society and government in a poignant and memorable way, although its slower pace may be dull for some viewers. The resolution also leaves things open to another possible sequel, which I am excited for. But if the series does continue, hopefully the depth of character and social complexity won't be replaced by more flash and flair.