Gosling Blade Runner

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.)

Any review of Blade Runner 2049 is by default a spoiler review. Warner Brothers and director Denis Villeneuve have gone to extreme lengths to keep the majority of details about their sci-fi sequel a secret, including limiting press screenings and issuing stern warnings to the press who did see the film to not reveal anything. This is both a commendable and unfortunate approach. While it’s true that movie marketing tends to give away too much for many films, and going into a film cold can make for a more rewarding experience, the tight-lipped approach to Blade Runner 2049 may have inadvertently doomed it at the box office. Audiences knew so little about the film from its less-than-engaging trailers that they simply didn’t bother to attend.

Which is a shame, because Blade Runner 2049 is one of the very best films of 2017, and one of the most staggering big studio releases you’re likely to come across. How on earth did Denis Villeneuve convince Warner Brothers to let him make a gigantic, foreboding tone poem and dress it up as a Blade Runner sequel? We may never know, and if the film continues to underperform, we may never get so lucky again.

So how about we dive into a Blade Runner 2049 spoiler review and talk about what makes this movie work so well?

Blade Runner 2049 Gosling

You’ve Never Seen a Miracle

The opening to Blade Runner 2049 will seem familiar to anyone who has studied the making of the original film. Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote 2049 as well as the original Blade Runner, was able to port over the unused opening in an earlier draft of what would become the 1982 Ridley Scott film. In that unused scene, Harrison Ford’s Deckard would be waiting for a man in the man’s home. Here’s how Paul M. Sammon, author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, explains the original scene:

“The original idea was to have Deckard be sitting in the kitchen and through the windows, you see the day is getting darker and darker … a strange vehicle pulls up. A guy in farmer’s overalls comes out, goes into the house, sees Deckard sitting there, ignores him, walks into the kitchen and starts stirring a big pot of soup…He says, ‘Do you want any soup?’ Deckard doesn’t say anything. ‘Who are you with, anyway?’ this guys says while stirring. Deckard gets up and says ‘I’m Deckard, Blade Runner.’ Boom! He kills this guy for no reason. Just shoots him. And then as this guy slumps against this wall, falls to the floor, Deckard reaches into his head and pulls his lower jaw out. And you see that it is an aluminum construct with an ID number stamped on it, and you realize it is not a person, it is a robot. Deckard takes this, puts in into his trench coat and walks out of the farm house, across the field.”

In Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, it’s no longer Deckard waiting in a kitchen for a confrontation, it’s Ryan Gosling’s K. Decked out in a stylish trench coat (everyone in the Blade Runner universe gets to sport really cool coats), K has come to confront Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). Sapper is a replicant – aka robot – in hiding, and K is a Blade Runner, a special type of cop whose job it is to “retire” (kill) renegade replicants who have outlived their purpose. In the Blade Runner world, replicants are slave labor, used for a variety of tasks – physical labor, for instance, or pleasure in the form of sex worker robots. As long as replicants perform their tasks and remain complacent, they’re able to get along fine. But if they disobey their commands and begin acting with a mind of their own, it creates a problem. That’s where Blade Runners come in.

And here Blade Runner 2049 reveals one of its first big twists; one of the many things the trailers avoided revealing: Gosling’s K is also a replicant. Sapper Morton is a completely different model than K, but they’re both robots created to serve and obey. “How does it feel to kill your own kind?” Sapper asks K. The two engage in a brutal struggle. K eventually gets the upper hand, killing Sapper. But before Sapper’s death, he cryptically speaks about witnessing a “miracle.” This miracle will be central to Blade Runner 2049’s plot. Because K makes a discovery on Sapper’s property – a box of bones buried beneath a dead tree. The bones appear human, but they actually belong to a replicant. And not just any replicant – they belong to Rachel, Sean Young’s character from the first film.

The question must be asked now: do you need to have seen the first Blade Runner to understand any of this? The answer, surprisingly, is no. One of Blade Runner 2049’s strengths is the way it goes to great lengths to stand on its own while also tying into the original film. Yes, seeing the first Blade Runner improves the experience. But if you happened to go into this sequel having not seen the first (why you would do that I don’t really know), you’d still be able to comprehend what’s happening here.

And there’s a lot happening here. Blade Runner 2049 is an altogether overwhelming experience. Almost nothing can accurately prepare you for how complex, and rich, and foreboding this film is. Certainly not in terms of modern studio blockbuster filmmaking. Alcon, Sony and Warner Brothers, the companies that financed and distributed Blade Runner 2049, have gone all-in on releasing a film that cost at least $155 million, and probably more. This is an exorbitant sum for any movie, let alone a film that’s a sequel to a sci-fi flick that underperformed when it hit theaters in 1982. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner may be regarded as a classic now, but when Scott’s smoky, gloomy, future noir graced cinemas in the ’80s, not a whole lot of people got it. Worse, not a whole lot of people went to see it.

Yet the studios behind Blade Runner 2049 were apparently okay with shelling out big bucks to get this film made. With that mind, it would’ve been very easy for them to insist on something much more digestible to everyday audiences. A type of big, dumb shoot-em-up that doesn’t require much thought and leaves general moviegoers with a sense of entertainment and little else. But that’s the complete opposite of what Blade Runner 2049 is. It’s a haunting, strange meditation on what it is to be human. An overarching theme in the science fiction films Ridley Scott has been involved with rests on how despicable and unlikable humanity can be, and how easy it can be to sympathize with the synthetic. In Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty was the villain, but he was also easy to root for. We felt bad for him, and we understood his needs – he wanted more life.

Blade Runner 2049 gets that, and in turn makes its main character a replicant. K, too, wants more life, although he may not quite realize that at the film’s start. He seems content to serve his purpose – to go to work and report back to his superior (Robin Wright). But as he’s drawn further and further into the film’s central mystery, the more and more he wants out of life. Whatever life is. K is, technically speaking, a thing without a soul. He’s not human, but he behaves more humanely than the actual humans in the film. He has needs, and feelings, and wants. Are they genuine, or just programmed? Is he really even feeling anything, or are these feelings the result of some circuitry?

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer and critic for /Film, and the host of the 21st Century Spielberg podcast. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net