Blade Runner Two…Thousand Forty-Nine is a Decades-After-the-Fact Sequel. In spite of everything, there still aren’t that many of them, and the few we have are usually held up as examples of why sequels suck in general. Most sequels shoot for that two-to-four-years-out-from-the-initial-release sweet spot. Wait a half-decade, full-decade, or – gods help us – three, and people start to get antsy. Clouds of desperation tend to hang over such productions, leaving even the most enthusiastic fan understandably weary.
My generation (and the one right before me) tends to sight Godfather 3 as the ur-example of A Decades-After-The-Fact-Sequel That Should Not Have Been, and time has “gifted” us plenty of others. Some are obvious cash-ins, attempting to turn Big Names into Name Brands – like Blues Brothers 2000, Tron: Legacy, and my personal favorites, Psycho 2-through-4. Others are the movie equivalent of a once-chart-topping band’s failed reunion tour, like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Money Never Sleeps. Then you have the follow-ups to films that that were quite self-contained, thank you – attempts to subsist on the scraps of stories that ate the whole plate. Like The Rage: Carrie 2 or any Terminator after 2. And there’s whatever the fuck Superman Returns is…good thing no one talks about that anymore. Thanks for that, Zack.
But for every one of these, there’s a Return to Oz or a Ghost In the Shell: Innocence. Hell, I’m a Godzilla fan, and the film that first got me into G-fandom was a direct sequel to 1954’s original that wiped the intervening fourteen films out of existence. We have to take each of these things in turn and fight the urge to dismiss them with knee-jerk, reactionary bullshit, because then we really will become what we hate. I’m speaking to my younger self as much as anyone. Hey, me of 2015?
Me of 2015: Yeah?
Put down that Force Awakens review and step away.
Me of 2015: But…the Expanded Universe…
Nobody cares. And if you put that out, everybody’s gonna take one look at your fanboy bitching and lump you in with all the assholes calling Rey a Mary Sue.
Me of 2015: *sigh* You’re probably right. Is that gonna become another phrase everybody just throws around until it loses all meaning?
What country do we live in?
Me of 2015: Good point…ah, well. More Bloodborne?
Fuck yeah, more Bloodborne. And guess what? Blade Runner 2? It’s actually going to be good.
Me of 2015: I don’t believe you.
Hey, I didn’t believe it either, until I saw it.
Me of 2015: What about Justice League?
Umm…sorry, gotta go. Nobody should know too much about their own future. Bye!
Spoiler alert, but glory be, Blade Runner 2’s actually the good kind of sequel: the kind that expands upon the premise, setting and themes of the original without shamelessly recycling its story beats. Ridley. We do get another introductory crawl we don’t really need, but whatever. It’s nice to know the Tyrell Corp. went bankrupt after the old man got his head caved in – a double dose of poetic justice. And it’s nice to know a massive environmental collapse is responsible for all the horrible weather we’re going to see throughout. Nuclear Winter isn’t as de regoure an explanation as it was back in 1982, no matter how much some of us might like it to be.
But life goes on, and there’s always some asshole willing to get into the slavery business. Which means there will always be slaves who run, and unscrupulous assholes willing to hunt them down. This time, not only is our titular Blade Runner – Officer KD6-3.7 – explicitly a replicant from frame one, his struggle with his own second-class citizenship is the dramatic backbone of the story. When his first victim explicitly calls him out for killing his “own kind,” and K feeds him a justification older than Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “my kind doesn’t run – only older models do” we, the audience, are supposed to go, “Yeah, right. Whatever, Smart Guy – your Lieutenant is Mrs. Underwood. I’d have run as soon as I found that out.” But it takes K a little more than that, or we wouldn’t have a movie. He has to find a box of bones in his Drax the Destroyer’s yard…the bones of a pregnant woman…with a serial number carved into her hip bone.
The idea of a pregnant replicant – a replicant with the ability to replicate – immediately freaks everyone the fuck out, and rightly so. As Lt. Antiope puts it, if either side of the Great Divide in this world’s social caste system were to find out they were more alike than different, a war would be inevitable, consuming what little’s left of this benighted Earth. K’s charged with tracking the child down: the child of an old Nexus model named Rachel, and an ex-Blade Runner named Rick Deckard.
Both disappeared thirty years ago, and K’s investigation takes him from the slums of Greater LA to the giant garbage dump that used to be San Diego, and the radioactive wasteland that used to be Las Vegas. As the clues mount, K comes to believe he may, in fact, be that child to us that was born. Or not. It doesn’t really matter. What really matters is, this movie’s myriad plot-twists pay more homage to Philip K. Dick than anything Ridley Scott’s done in thirty years. The complete lack of assurance in your own experience in a world where memories can be manufactured is as Dickian a theme as they come. I’m sure Dick would love the idea of a memory artist. The fact he didn’t live long enough to see our current generation of rich assholes was no barrier against him creating several characters just like Niander Wallace. And if you actually bother reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, you’ll find replicants much more like Wallace’s Number One Girl, Luv, than they are Rachel, or Priss, or our boy Roy. Or even K himself.
That’s the fundamental disconnect between source and adaptation – Dick thought, “Ok – they look human, but they can’t feel things like humans do and have no particular regard for our lives. They’re basically Nazis.” Ridley Scott looked at that and countered with, “If anyone’s the Nazis in this equation, it’s the people creating a whole races of expendable people. And a whole new bunch of cops to hunt them down.” Now we find them burning serial numbers into people’s fucking bones. And the back of their eyeballs. No series of esoteric questions for this Blade Runner. He can just shove a scanner into his victim’s faces.
Evil Me: You’re walking in the woods. There’s no one around and your phone is dead. Out of the corner of your eye you spot him.
Also, K’s debriefings are bullshit psyche jobs disguised as psych evaluations, complete with the kind of call-and-response shit usually reserved for brainwashing sessions in cults…and a little alarm on his boss’ computer that rings whenever his results are off the “baseline.” “My kind don’t run.” Yeah, no shit, genius – your surveilled to within an inch of your miserable excuse for a life. And the slave state you work for provides you with all the material amenities it considers important. Deckard’s shit apartment looked like a bit of the Nostromo throw back through time and space. K’s looks like a damn Ikea catalog, complete with his own holographic girlfriend – Joi. The closest thing Deckard had to her was booze.
Remember that movie from a couple years ago, about a guy falling in love with his phone? Well, now you don’t have to, because we have this, which is shorter and sweeter. Joi’s very existence parallels the replicants in general. Mass produced product though she may be, she’s very much self-aware, and her interactions with K have obviously turned her into an individual. When he gets her a mobile emitter (that’s not the term – that’s Star Trek’s term, but it’s totally a mobile emitter) the first thing they do is go up to the roof and recreate that scene from V for Vendetta. God is in the rain, motherfuckers – not stuck in some tower he’s done for maximum feng shui. May all his kind follow the path of their True God, Steve Jobs – right to the end.
It’s too much to hope that a revolution might pull them down out of the towers they’ve built for themselves with other people’s labor. One of the things I always…”liked” is the wrong word….appreciated about Tyrell is that, while he’s up in his pyramid, everyone else who helped him design the Nexus series is either punching the clock at some street-level storefront or squatting in some abandoned noir apartment building Team Roy could just walk right into.
Still, it’s nice to see a revolutionary consciousness grow amongst the replicant community…even if it is terribly bourgeois. I’d like to see them make their pitch to someone who isn’t on his own personal road to Damascus and who doesn’t have a (potential) Personal, Possibly Familial, Connection To the World Shaping Events unfolding in this plot. It reminds me of another Star Wars movie – Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One – if Rogue One were crossed with The Passion of the Robo-Christ….Oh, wait…no – that’s RoboCop. Who may be getting his own Decades-After-the-Fact-Sequel. Though rumors have been swirling since the remake flopped, so I’ll believe it when I see it.
There’s also a disturbing number of callbacks to previous scenes within this story – as if we, the audience, are too dumb or too easily bored to remember what happened thirty minutes ago. I guess that’s a sign of how far the world’s moved on since 1982. As is the fact Ridley Scott didn’t direct this, only Executive Produced it. That can mean a lot of things. Some ExPs hover like helicopter parents. Some cash their checks and go make Alien prequels. Three guesses which option Ridley picked. Actual directing duties fall to Denis Villeneuve, the dude who did Arrival and a bunch of other stuff I haven’t seen, but want to now that I’ve seen this. Usually, Decades-After-the-Fact Sequels or Stealth Remakes are proving grounds for complete unknowns, but this guy’s got two decades of movies under his belt and he’s friends with cinematographer Roger Deakens – the guy who makes all the Cohen Brothers movies look so good. He’s in full effect here, as well. Blade Runner’s world was always ugly-beautiful – in that John Carter, “You are ugly, but you are beautiful” sense – but with their powers combined, our director and cinematographer here do what I previously thought impossible and make it just straight-up beautiful-beautiful.
Still, this is a big budget feature film with not one but two of the Big Five studios’ logos both in front and behind it. It was never going to be other than a single protagonist’s journey through the standard, Cambellian hero arc, right up to the Reconciliation With the Father. I accept that, and I think a lot of people accepted it, despite their frequently and loudly-announced hatred of just this kind of story, because it follows through on the promise of the original Blade Runner. It doesn’t ultimately matter if Deckard is K’s bio-dad or not – from a spiritual perspective, he is K’s father. And by the end, they do connect – one Blade Runner to another. Compromised agents of a corrupt system, united in their rebellion against it.
I was gonna end this with some naive hope that everyone involved would have good sense/guts to leave things here…but hope is a wish for an outcome over which you have no agency, so fuck it. This thing “only” made $260 million in theaters, and according to Hollywood math ($260 million minus a $180 million budget equals $80 million, which probably didn’t even cover the advertising budget…plus theaters tend to keep half the ticket sales), Blade Runner 2…Thousand Forty-Nine flopped. So it looks like Blade Runner will becoming a once-in-a-generation type of thing and…ya know what? I’m okay with that. Turning it into it’s own Expanded Universe would only create all sorts of new problems.
Evil Me: Speaking of which…there’s something you’ve been putting off.