***Blade Runner 2049 spoilers ahead***
I don’t know if it was ever Philip K. Dick’s intention to explore the ethical quandary of self-replicating AI –he had his hands full just guilt-tripping the shit out of us for how we treat (and try to control) the “help”. In that respect, the first Blade Runner (and the book it was based on) was an exquisite commentary on hubris, and we didn’t need to have two dozen sad-sack replicants paraded in front of us to get the message. It was sufficient to watch Leon, Roy, Zhora, and Pris clamor for answers and compassion from a society hell bent on depriving them of any, and to stew in the gut-wrenching futility of their gambit. The only real satisfaction one can take away from Roy’s plight was watching him blind his arrogant maker and crush his skull before his “batteries” ran out. A god complex comes with consequences, Elden.
Now we’re supposed to believe that the same guy who extolled the virtues of ruthless “commerce” and obsessed about his stock portfolio in his bedclothes was giving the next generation of Nexus models fully functional reproductive systems and lifting the four-year cap because… why?? He was actually a nice guy after all?? Apparently, those Nexus 6s weren’t made “as well as we could make them.” There’s nothing in the first film to suggest that Tyrell was just about to unveil this monumental (world-breaking, to quote Robyn Wright) upgrade in the middle of a crackdown on the renegades he had been inadvertently churning out up till then. No. The dude was a control freak and a psychopath who was perfectly happy with the status quo. I always took Rachel to be one of his own little indulgences -a contraband toy that he created just to prove he could, and then coldly cast aside when she learned her true provenance.
Speaking of the oppressed masses of replicants, can we address the elephant in the room? It seems the surest way to undercut all the gravitas of your post-apocalyptic screenplay is to introduce audiences to your dystopian world’s ragtag band of “resistance fighters”. Mutant Mars colonists in Total Recall, Dennis Leary’s ridiculous (literal) underground gangs in Demolition Man, The entire population of Zion in the Matrix trilogy, Morgan and crew in Oblvion, the ISOs of Tron Legacy, and now Freysa and her band of fugitive Nexus 8s, all standing forlornly about in moping solidarity -they’ve become almost a Sci-Fi trope in their own right: poorly actualized, patronizingly expository, and difficult to empathize with. And they completely fuck up the visual feast of Ray Bradbury-esque vistas, cryogenics, immersive neuro-enslavement, relentless robo-sentinels, bitchin’ electrified spandex clothing, and dreary industrialization.
No, I’m not buying the idea that Rachel was capable of procreating, or that she and Deckard ran off to the wasteland of Las Vegas to bump uglies, only to have their offspring end up in an orphanage/child labor camp –even IF we accept that Deckard was indeed a replicant, and an unwitting pawn in Tyrell’s “master plan.” We already accepted that he was a cog in the machine, and to snatch away Rachel’s implied abbreviated mortality robs the audience of a conclusion we had already come to terms with: their time together was precious and fleeting, and no, you don’t get to see how it turns out. Closure and happy endings are for dullards. Roll credits.
As I fully expected it to be, Blade Runner 2049 was a completely unnecessary attempt to extend The Mona Lisa by stitching on a few more centimeters of canvas –perhaps not an embellishment, but a “continuation” that was neither warranted, nor asked for by anyone not cashing a paycheck off it.
Yes, Gosling was decent. Yes, Robyn Wright is awesome. Yes, I’ll even buy Jared Leto as a much more enigmatic and sinister follow-up to Tyrell, even if his idea of elevating the humanity of his “product” is (by his own admission in the film) fundamentally self-defeating. Gaping plot hole notwithstanding, Wallace was at least better realized than Prometheus’s Peter Weyland. And yes, I can accept a couple hours of muscular subwoofer abuse and atmospheric pad synths in lieu of anything attempting to tread on Vangelis’ sacred ground. Those were impossible shoes to fill, admittedly.
But was it at least respectful of the original film’s feel and aesthetic? Just barely. The ship-breaking ruins in the San Diego waste processing district were a nice hellish touch –I’m betting Villeneuve saw the same documentary I did. Possibly the only thing that has left as strong a visual impression on me as Ridley’s original fantasy, and it has the added horror of being real. If anyone wants to make a live-action version of WALL-E, there should be little doubt now as to who should helm it. But, I’m sorry Dennis… too much light, too many austere set pieces, not enough drizzle, not enough decay, and not nearly claustrophobic enough. And while Deakins absolutely deserved that cinematography Oscar, if we’re being honest, it belongs on a shelf below Jordan Cronenweth’s BAFTA and LA Film Critics Assoc hardware from 1982.
Though it didn’t destroy my faith in cinema, and was visually enjoyable on its own, Blade Runner 2049 is nevertheless a viz-fx penthouse that is by now too familiar, and only made me pine for the the moldy, waterlogged halls and crumbling edifices of the Bradbury building.
Please don’t make any more of these.