BLADE RUNNER 2049 Mixes Nostalgia With Dystopian Retrofuture Despair

The last time Harrison Ford reprised one of his iconic science fiction roles, some fans took issue that the filmmakers were basically creating a retelling of the original story in an attempt to harness moviegoers’ nostalgia and avoid any negative critique. It’s a tough balance for sure, when you are making a sequel to a classic film thirty years later. (I’m looking forward to seeing a 57-year-old Jennifer Lawrence in Mother: Genesis! hitting theaters in the summer of 2047.)  However where Star Wars: The Force Awakens may have won over audiences by treading in familiar territory, Blade Runner 2049 pays homage to the vibe, tone and feel of the original science fiction film noir, while also pushing the story forward in new directions that most fans will enjoy.

Ryan Gossling tracks down awesome trench coats.
Smog really sucks in the future but at least car doors are cool.

If you are like me, you may need a refresher on what is happening in any film franchise, let alone one that took thirty-five years for the sequel to be released. While I highly recommend watching or re-watching Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 1982, with the director’s preferred version, The Final Cut (there are several versions of the film to choose from including the Theatrical Cut and an International Cut) available on DVD, here is a brief recap that will have you passing the Voight-Kampff test in no time!

Young Deckard is on the trail of those pesky replicants.

The original film follows the story of an ex-police officer named Rick Deckard who works as a blade runner in the rainy, dystopian Los Angeles of 2019. Blade runners are essentially bounty hunters who track down illegal replicants—bioengineered androids manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation that are indistinguishable from natural humans. Replicants have been given advanced strength, speed and even in some cases intelligence. They are used for labor, mainly on off-world space colonies in situations that are too dangerous for humans. However, while the company claims they are “more human than human” (the inspiration for a killer White Zombie song) a failsafe was used in their creation to stop them from developing empathy and other human emotions that could lead to them turning on their masters. Therefore, replicants of the Nexus-6 model only live for four years before dropping dead. In a world where intelligent synthetic humans exist, it seems the logic is that they can’t let them get too human, otherwise that whole slave labor thing becomes a moral issue.

Despite these precautions, replicants staged a mutiny on an off-world colony, leading to them being banned on Earth. Deckard is informed that four of these illegal replicants have made their way to Los Angeles and he is tasked with hunting them down. Eduardo Gaff, a detective, shows Deckard a video of another Blade Runner performing the Voight-Kampff test: a series of questions using an advanced form of a lie detector that measures contractions of the iris, heart rate and eye moment to test for empathy. In this case, when it is revealed that the subject, Leon, is not human, the replicant kills the blade runner. From there Deckard meets with the head of the Tyrell Corporation and the creator of the replicants, Eldon Tyrell himself, to see if the test works on the new Nexus-6 replicants. Tyrell introduces Decker to Rachael who, after giving an extended test, he discovers is a replicant – even though she thinks she is human, representing an advancement in replicant technology.

Replicants Roy and Pris
Replicants just want to live longer so they can go dressed like this for Halloween.

Deckard proceeds with his investigation into tracking down the fugitive replicants, leading him to Leon’s hotel room where he finds a synthetic snake scale. In the world of 2019 Blade Runner, real animals are hard to come by and much like the artificial humans, a whole industry exists to bioengineer animals. This clue, coupled with a photo, leads Deckard to a strip club where the female replicant of the bunch, Zhora, is working. After a brief confrontation, he “retires” the replicant; blade runner lingo for killing her. Returning home, Rachael is waiting for Deckard at his apartment. He spills the beans to her on her replicant status. She doesn’t believe him, telling him of childhood memories, that Deckard proves are really those of Tyrell’s niece by finishing her private story for her.

Later, on the street, Deckard is confronted by Leon, who he kills. He is also informed by the police that he is to “retire” the escaped Rachael, who has not returned to the Tyrell Corporation. Meanwhile the remaining fugitive replicants including Roy (played by Rutger Hauer) track down a genetic designer, named Sebastian, who works for Tyrell, who they think can help reverse their age limit. Roy tricks him into gaining access to Tyrell, where the replicant confronts his maker, asking to be saved from imminent death. When Tyrell confirms that there is no way to reverse the aging failsafe for replicants, Roy gives him a kiss before killing him. At this point Deckard has tracked the replicants to Sebastian’s apartment where he kills the second to last one living, Pris, before Roy returns for the final showdown. However, instead of fighting it out to the death, the replicant, Roy, actually saves Deckard in the end and sits down to expire peacefully. The cops show up and the detective, Gaff, tells Deckard knowingly, “It’s too bad she won’t live.” Deckard returns home to find Rachael in his apartment. Before they leave, Deckard discovers Gaf’s calling card: an origami piece of paper, this time in the form of a unicorn… which is the animal Deckard had a dream about. This final scene led to one of the greatest fan debates in cinema history: is Deckard a replicant?!

So, before we flash forward thirty years to the Blade Runner world of 2049, the filmmakers bridged the two films with several shorts connecting the two. Blade Runner 2049 director, Denis Villeneuve introduces each of these, and I think they are great tie-ins that fans of Blade Runner and completism will enjoy. These will help you getting up to speed with what you need to know going in, while not giving away any spoilers.

“Black Out 2022”

The events in this anime-style short are referenced in the new feature. In the year 2022, just three years after the events of the original, an electromagnetic pulse is detonated by rebel replicants, wiping out the power grid and destroying computer data records including police files on replicant data.

“2036: Nexus Dawn”

This short introduces us to Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), a bioengineer who bought the Tyrell Corporation and intends to convince the government to allow him to start making replicants again in order to further colonize the galaxy at a faster pace.

“2048: Nowhere to Run”

This story takes place a year before the events of the new feature film and gives some backstory to the character, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), who is a rouge “skin job.”

The new "Tyrell"
Jared Leto is thinking about how awesome his Joker could have been if he just did this.

So now we get to Blade Runner 2049; and right off the bat I must tell you that this is another one of those films that the less I reveal about the plot, the better off you will be going in. So here is what I can tell you: Ryan Gossling plays a new Blade Runner named K. He lives with his holographic girlfriend – basically the 2049 version of Alexa – a situation that delivers one of the weirdest sex scenes since 2013’s Her when Joaquin Phoenix tried to have relations with his iPhone. Like his predecessor, K is tasked with tracking down illegal replicants on Earth. However, now newer models of replicants, the Nexus-8s, which were created by Niander Wallace who purchased the Tyrell Corporation, have been taught to obey humans. Yet blade runners are tasked with tracking down older Nexus 6s who have survived and gone into hiding. K tracks down one such older model replicant, Sapper Morton (featured in the above short), and makes a discovery which has world-shattering implications; so much so that his boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) sends him on a mission to possibly avoid catastrophe. In his way stands Wallace with his own intentions. The maniacal performance that Jared Leto gives as Wallace hints at what he could have delivered as The Joker in the ill-fated Suicide Squad. While he is blind, the character uses an implant to see with robotic floating cameras that follow him around like birds. It gives a creepy, villainous effect to the character that serves the story well. While replicants are not fully human, the humans in this world are moving on from their humanity as well. Wallace’s assistant, a replicant woman named Luv, chases K on his quest in some of the most intense battle scenes set against the unique world of Blade Runner. Like the original, the story will leave viewers with lots to think over, and that was key to making this a successful film to hold up to the original.

The most advertising Pan Am has had in years.
Pan Am is still flying in 2049!

What I like about this new film is that it keeps us in the Blade Runner universe although we are now close to the year in which the original took place. Obviously in 2019 we are not going to have flying cars, and hopefully the environmental situation won’t be so dire that all plant and animal life on earth is synthetic. Yet in this world of 2049, filmmakers didn’t update their take on the future to align with how we now know things turned out, yet continued living in the Blade Runner world, just thirty years later. There is even one of those ever-present holographic advertisements, for Pan Am Airlines, a company whose logo was featured in the first film, yet in real life went out of business in 1991. This odd retrofuture take is a lot better choice for a number of reasons. The Terminator movies would try and make it make sense, from one sequel to the next; which is insane. Wait, so they actually thought there was going to be a killer robot uprising in the year 1997 and when “Judgement Day” didn’t actually happen, had to make the story conform to our reality for Terminator 3?

Ryan Gossling as a new Blade Runner.
Blade Runner K is impressed with the stunning visuals that match the original film.

Blade Runner fans will be happy that this sequel didn’t go the way of other sequels made decades after the original (looking at you, Blues Brothers 2000). I recommend revisiting the original and viewing the above shorts before hunkering down with another densely packed vision of a future that may never be.

Did you see Blade Runner 2049? What did you think?