The past week has been framed with long journeys: 16-18h in airplanes and courtesy lounges. Bored as I was, I watched the new Blade Runner movie. This was an easily predictable error in judgment, and nobody else’s fault. I’m about to share its awfulness with you, because I love y’all.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t spoil a film like this, but this movie is so dreadful, it becomes worth analyzing.
I was a teenager when I watched the original Blade Runner film, and it had an aesthetic that I admired. I did not (and do not) really consume sci-fi, but like a couple of other old films (Tarkovskii’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) the original had a compelling story, interesting characters, and worthy acting.
Unlike the typical (gay) sci-fi story, the original Blade Runner universe is neither a dystopian shithole, nor is it an autistic technocratic paradise. It was a world much like the one I knew in my own childhood, only a bit weirder, darker, more multicultural, with flying cars and bases on other planets. The people in the original Blade Runner universe also had far better taste than Americans do today.
By 2049, art deco is out. Most of the art and architecture looks like a cross between your local Federal Building and the strip-mall where your dentist’s office is.
The Tyrell Corporation is also gone. It has been replaced by an organization run by an introverted, eye-glowing, robotic hermit named Wallace (Jared Leto). The troublesome replicants of the past have been replaced by newer, more obedient models. A new replicant hunter, named alternately “K” (to his female boss) or “Joe” (to his hologram girlfriend) is played by Ryan Gosling. His job is to hunt down all the older models and retire (murder) them.
Yes, I’m sure the name was a deliberate allusion to The Trial. Kafka is still grave-rolling.
The first plot-hole appears almost immediately. The world has been destroyed (see: “dystopian shithole,” paragraph 4) and folks are raising worms for food. Joe K hunts down one of these protein farmers, played by Dave Bautista. Bautista’s character first seems compliant. Officer Josef K needs to scan the barcode which has been genetically programmed to appear on the farmer’s eyeball.
One will recall that in the old film, different parts of the replicant body were outsourced, and the corpse was apparently built and animated from parts designed by specialty firms.
Not so in 2049. The Wallace-bot is producing grown humans in an artificial placenta, which looks, to my novice eye, like a giant, suspended plastic bag. So the question arises: How is it that a genetically engineered but otherwise indistinguishable human clone can have a serial number on its eyeball? It stretches the imagination to think that one could genetically engineer such a precise deformity.
In any case, the mediocre Josef K slaughters Bautista’s character (who delivered one of the few noteworthy performances in the film), and cuts his eye out, for delivery to the (female, of course) Los Angeles police commissioner.
Another storyline-disaster occurs immediately. Right outside the protein farmer’s house, stands an old withered tree, with a date that is carved into the root. This carving matches one that little K remembered from childhood, inscribed on a toy horse he remembered. He later goes back to his orphanage and finds the toy horse, somehow, and realizes that his memory isn’t artificial.
How all these amazing synchronous coincidences just seem to happen is never fully explained.
So, we have androids who aren’t really androids any longer. They’re just human beings grown in garbage bags. The replicants minds aren’t designed any longer, they’re just human brains. In short, we have humans of the traditional variety, and human beings who were grown by the Wallace-bot, and there isn’t any meaningful difference between them. One of the main themes of the film is a question about whether a robot can possess an authentic soul, or feel authentic emotions. In this instance, why wouldn’t they? Unless the Wallace-bot is growing brain-damaged people, they would be indistinguishable from the heirloom variety.
The Wallace-bot has a right hand woman (another kickass female assassin… yawn) named “Love” (Sylvia Hoeks). She kills a police officer in the department’s evidence room. Somehow, she gets away clean. I guess the LAPD has grown very lax about video surveillance in 2049. Emboldened by the ineptitude of the cops, “Love” subsequently comes back and murders the (female, of course) police commissioner. Slaughtering L.A.’s top cop goes unpunished also.
In one of the few comedic moments, Wallace-bot’s assassin/assistant can be seen plugging SD cards into the side of Wallace-bot’s head. Truly a funny scene, though it’s embedded in a sequence that is so nauseatingly self-important that the humor was entirely unintentional. So much for self-awareness…
Harrison Ford’s character (the original Officer Deckard) is revealed to be a robot himself, and he shuffles through his lines halfheartedly, looking like a sufferer of the beginning stages of android-Parkinsons. Even as an old geezer, Harrison Ford can deliver on the screen (check out his work in 2015’s Age of Adaline). My guess is that he saw the script, took the money, and like the rest of us, refused to give a shit.
Making Deckard a robot not only sours the contemporary release, it also ruins the original. One will recall that the younger Deckard was on Earth, as a human being, and he was depicted as being a bloodthirsty and cruel murderer-for-hire. His victims, who were derided as being emotionless, were constantly displaying empathy for each other. At the end of the original, the dying replicant (Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer) even showed mercy to Deckard (Harrison Ford). This was supposed to illustrate a deeper dichotomy about the definition and limits of humanity. All that thoughtful stuff is gone now, with the introduction of the plot holes scarring this odd, poorly envisioned piece of fan-fiction.
Deckard’s meeting with Wallace-bot, the autistic grower of humans in garbage-bags, clues him in to his true purpose. He was designed to meet Rachel, impregnate her with the first android-baby, and bring the child to term in a natural way. Wallace-bot is jealous of this ability, and needs to find the child for dissection, so that he can make his garbage-bag humans fertile. I guess the Dearborn assembly line isn’t producing enough robot-people. What the world really needs is millions of robot-playaz, constantly impregnating millions of android-skanks, to get that population booming.
So Deckard is designed to fall for Rachel, and vice-versa. Why didn’t the Tyrell Corporation just keep them both on company property to do their little fertility experiment?
The camera angles and synth-music attempted to ape the Vangelis score and Ridley Scott’s direction. They made the film a muddier, more confusing mess. Of course, the competing bombast, alternately delivered by Wallace-bot and Police-wimminz, in ham-fisted, self-important soliloquies, tells us more-or-less what the filmmaker wants us to think. We are supposed to identify the garbage-bag humans as the working class, and the individuals as your parents’ Meso-American gardeners, and we are supposed to feel sorry for them, and contrite for holding them down.
Note to the producers: It doesn’t work.
One surprisingly noteworthy performance was given by Josef K.’s waifu pillow, a hologram girlfriend named Joy (Ana de Armas). She sheds tears as she gives her man a name, and tells him that he’s special to her. This was a very moving scene. She’s also tasked with things other actresses would never do (appearing fully nude on screen, being a nerdy robot incel’s VR porn doll, etc.)
If a director asks his actress to do such stuff, then he has a moral and professional obligation to feature her work in a worthy, watchable film. Denis Villeneuve skipped out on his part of the bargain.