REPLICANTS ARE BIOENGINEERED HUMANS, DESIGNED BY TYRELL CORPORATION FOR USE OFF-WORLD. THEIR ENHANCED STRENGTH MADE THEM IDEAL SLAVE LABOR
AFTER A SERIES OF VIOLENT REBELLIONS, THEIR MANUFACTURE BECAME PROHIBITED AND TYRELL CORP WENT BANKRUPT
THE COLLAPSE OF THE ECOSYSTEM IN THE MID-2020s LED TO THE RISE OF INDUSTRIALIST NIANDER WALLACE, WHOSE MASTERY OF SYNTHETIC FARMING AVERTED FAMINE
WALLACE ACQUIRED THE REMAINS OF TYRELL CORP AND CREATED A NEW LINE OF REPLICANTS WHO OBEY
MANY OLDER MODEL REPLICANTS-NEXUS 8s WITH OPEN-ENDED LIFESPANS – SURVIVED.
THEY ARE HUNTED DOWN AND ‘RETIRED’
THOSE THAT HUNT THEM STILL GO BY THE NAME …
As far as I can tell, the greatest mystery posed by the original Blade Runner was if Harrison Ford’s burnt out LA cop Rick Deckard was human or not. The first film ends with Deckard and Rachael – a replicant he had been involved with – leaving his apartment block together to destinations unknown.
From the poster art and trailers, the new film obviously sees a return of Ford’s character, although it is unclear why he appears.
As BR 2049 opens, the capitalised text above appears on the screen. It is a lot of information to digest at the start of a film, and we then move across an immense cityscape arriving at a rural location. In this grey environment a large character in a biohazard suit is reaching down into murky liquid, pulling out a handful of grubs.
LAPD officer “K” (Ryan Gosling) approaches this protein farm in a futuristic car (it is 2049 after all) and releases a drone from his roof to survey the area.
The sound and production design immediately spring out as being of a superior quality, with a haunting soundtrack, and alien–like effects to accompany the farmer as he takes off his hazmat suit and enters his dwelling.
Inside, Gosling’s K (who entered the building while the man was decontaminating himself,) is sitting in a chair underneath a window, while the large farmer man is revealed to be Sapper Morton (played by Dave Bautista) as he moves to the sink, also lit by a window, and it apparent that along with every other feature of the film, the lighting is exceptional.
On the stove a blue pot bubbles away and Gosling remarks on the smell. The farmer explains it is garlic. “I grow it for myself”.
K, who is there to check on the man to see if he is a replicant, asks to see Morton’s eye, but before he can use his “eye-cheking” apparatus, Morton lunges at K with a scalpel concealed in his hand.
They fight and Morton knocks a hole in a wall after repeatedly bashing K against it.
Surprisingly K overwhelms the larger, stronger man, and it is here that we get our first intel that K may also be a replicant himself.
Back at LAPD HQ, Robin Wright, (who clearly enjoyed Ice Cube’s turn as a tough as nails police captain in the Jump St movies is behaving in a similar fashion as she) knocks back shots of liquor while admonishing K for getting injured, praising him for taking down Morton, and tasking him with a new lead, while also sending him for “baseline testing”.
K flies his space car back to base from the farm, crossing over an infinite vista of hi-rise buildings, this is housing density like I’ve never seen, before arriving at the city’s biggest building, the LAPD HQ.
Watch closely and you’ll see there is no nature whatsoever.
Which makes an earlier shot of a yellow flower back at the farm, that much more intriguing.
K duly submits himself for a “Post Traumatic Baseline Test”, where he is subjected to a battery of phrases like “interlinked cells” that he repeats or responds to, identifying any anomalies in his behaviour.
He is deemed fit to continue work and even earns a bonus. He returns home to his apartment, where he is greeted by a swearing Russian woman who calls him a “tinplate soldier”, further evidence he is a replicant himself.
By now, with the “baseline testing” and everything else that has gone down, it is clear that K is not a human. This is hammered home, as spray-painted on his front door is the phrase “Fuck off Skinner”.
K’s A.I. holographic domestic partner/girlfriend/maid “Joi” (Cuban born actress Ana de Armas) is one of the film’s most incredibly realised characters.
As the pair exchange pleasantries about their days, his interaction with her is interrupted by a voice message calling him back to work as there has been a development in his case with Morton.
When K was at the farm, his drone surveyed the area and discovered a box buried underground beneath the roots of an old tree. A team has dug down and retrieved the box and now the lab is examining the contents of the box.
Inside the box are the skeletal remains of a replicant, and there is something scandalous about this find that leads to K questioning his own identity.
For the remainder of the film K is tasked with keeping this secret to prevent all hell breaking loose, while also digging into his own past to discover more about himself.
A blackout many years before wiped most archives as they were backed up to hard drives, and his inquiries lead him to the Wallace Corporation Earth HQ where he crosses paths with “Luv” (Sylvia Hoeks), the assistant to the company boss Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).
Here we witness flashbacks to the first film including dialogue from Rachael as she was being tested by Decker.
We see another character from the first film, Edward James Olmos as Gaff, and K seeks more information on the officer who was involved with Rachael. Naturally this leads him to Decker.
There is not a frame in this film that hasn’t been crafted in meticulous detail. The lighting is a wonderfully present part of the proceedings. Lights turn on illuminating characters as they move about each scene. Other lighting effects show ripples of water reflecting on walls and ceilings. The colour grading of different parts of the film is phenomenal in creating an aesthetic, from the stark, bleak grey beginning through to the mustard yellow world where Decker is holed up in an abandoned casino hotel.
(Of all the weeks to release a film set in part in Las Vegas, this is that week, and this is that film. By sheer coincidence the biggest mass shooting in modern US history took place in Las Vegas on October 1st with Blade Runner 2049 premiering in LA on October 3rd.)
Ryan Gosling is in top form as he moves through the film, trying to understand what makes him tick in a world where reality and artifice collide.
The sets, including abandoned factories, vast waste processing sites, K’s apartment, the outdoor food court where he grabs a bite to eat, are stunning in detail. All are infused with a gritty, futuristic-yet-contemporary ethos, that makes it impossible not to envisage the planet on a crash course with this stark, neon covered world where nature has died, leaving androids moving amongst us to service our most base human desires.
The famous advertisements from the first film are still in place, even advertising now defunct brands such as Pan-Am and Atari (OK so Atari still exist), adding to the “future-retro” vibe.
Enormous electronic installations of “Joi” interact with citizens, urging them to purchase a model for themselves to “see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear”.
A scene in a vast industrial recycling plant could be straight out of an iPhone factory, but here minors are at work disassembling an infinite pile of electrical components.
Key records that could shed light on K’s past are missing, and he encounters a “memory maker” Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) who lives in a bunker due to the risk of contamination from the toxic environment.
Even the briefest of cameos from The Wire’s Wood Harris as a cop Nandez, or Captain Phillips pirate Barkhad Abdi as Doc Badger, a pawn shop operator, are remarkable for the presence the bring to the scene, meaning that quality performances permeate every single scene.
Slowly the pieces of K’s puzzle come together, and despite a run time of 163 minutes, the film earns the right to take the time that it does, to allow each and every detail to be absorbed by both the characters and the audience.
I’m still in awe that this is not Ridley Scott behind the camera, but Denis Villeneuve, the talented Canadian director who gave us Sicario and Arrival.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins (who shot 1984, amongst dozens of other films) has earned 13 Oscar nominations for his work without a single win, and this could be the film to take him there. A visually stunning masterpiece that holds its own in the story department, this is my pick for the first Best Picture candidate for the 90th Academy Awards.
Paying tribute to earlier sci-fi classics including THX-1138 and Soylent Green as well as the original film, this is rightly being called one of the best sequels of all time and with 35 years in the making that is some feat.
5 Stars. A Masterpiece.