This post contains spoilers for “Blade Runner 2049.” Proceed with caution.
The new Blade Runner film does what all good sequels do: it takes the world built in previous installments and blows it open.
First, some thoughts: like everyone else, I love the production design and cinematography. Viewers will be totally and completely lost in this terrible, inevitable world flecked and filtered with the worst humanity can do. Secondly, director Denis Villeneuve captures excellent performances from his mains, making his case as one of Hollywood’s best directors of actors. Everyone in this movie is good (yes, even Jared Leto).
In “Blade Runner 2049,” we jump ahead 30 years from the events of the previous film to a Los Angeles at the forefront of a potential war between repliants and humans (those who remain on earth and not one of the off-world colonies). As the line between what constitutes humanity shrinks, inequality becomes less tolerable for replicants.
Blade runners still exist in this society, stuck retiring older model replicants that have operated past their expiration date. Our hero, K (Ryan Gosling), is a blade runner – and a new model replicant, as we’re told early in the film. These new model’s follow orders better, K says.
In his investigation of a rogue replicant (Dave Bautista), K finds a box full of human remains buried in the yard. Analysis finds these bones finds belonged to a female replicant who died in childbirth, a stunning discovery with percussive implications. (Shout out to another excellent Hans Zimmer score).
It also generates a few big questions that the film ponders the rest of its run-time. First, who’s the father? Second, replicants can have children? Third, what constitutes humanity: being born? Bleeding? Having a soul? What happens when replicants can reproduce for themselves?
What happens when those in power are forced to admit that everyone is truly, biologically equal?
War, clearly. So K’s superior at the LAPD tells him destroy the evidence. But before he does, he checks in with the Wallace Corporation, the major replicant producer these days – run by Niander Wallace (played by an ethereal Jared Leto) – to identify the body. It’s Rachael, and K discovers the romantic tie between her and missing blade runner Rick Deckard.
Wallace is effectively the Big Bad in 2049, and Leto certainly looks and chews up the part (I still have nightmares about him luxuriantly rubbing his just-made placenta-covered replicant). His motivations are clear enough: if the pregnancy is real, he wants to find a way to replicate (sorry) it in his own builds and create a larger workforce more quickly. He sends his own new model replicant, Luv, to both steal the bones and track K on his investigation.
Along the way we learn more about the child from bits of K’s memory that turn out to be true – suggesting that he may be human, as well as the child himself. In what feels like a bit of on-the-rails plot, K’s analysis of the toy horse from his memory leads finds levels of radiation that could have only come from Las Vegas (really, it couldn’t be anywhere else?), where he also finds Deckard holed up in a bachelor pad of a hotel complete with a dog, a never ending supply of Johnny Walker Black, and rigged tripwire.
Ford’s performance as Deckard, which is loads more nuanced and interesting than the ‘82 film gave us, is one of the best parts of the entire film. And he’s rightly receiving some low-grade Oscar buzz. But here’s your spoiler: his appearance doesn’t clarify anything about the replicant/human debate now 35 years old – it only muddies things. He’s the father of the child, so was it a human/replicant production? Or replicant/replicant?
The answer doesn’t matter in the way it did in the original film, to the sequel’s credit. We’ve moved on from that question, since the horizon of this world has expanded greatly. So greatly, in fact, that the film’s able to resolve its own narrative question – who is this child? – while introducing a new thrust in its last act: war is coming. Who will win?
We’ll have to wait for a potential sequel to find out.