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Ridley’s Scott’s 1982 neo-noir masterpiece Blade Runner, with its decaying Art Deco displays and smog city aesthetics, introduced replicants to moviegoers who might have preferred to get their Harrison Ford fix in “Han Solo” form.
These bio-engineered “skin jobs” worked as slaves in the off-world colonies. They fell in love, they failed empathy tests, and they fretted murderously over their five-year lifespans. More than human, they were definitely not human. But did they have a soul? The answer to this query was that they could earn one. When the doomed Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) saves his would-be assassin, Rick Deckard (Ford), from falling off a rain-hammered rooftop, he chooses mercy rather than revenge. And the dove flies into the night sky.
Blade Runner 2049 takes place thirty years after Deckard takes the suggestion of a zoot-suited cop named Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to hit the unknown road with a replicant named Rachel (Sean Young) and try to make a life -- however short, however uncertain -- with the woman he loves. In this slick sequel to the cult sci-fi classic, we learn that something more than love might have taken place during their romance: a miracle.
Director Denis Villeneuve glides his audience -- an audience fully eager to re-enter a dystopian world where pleasure bots can kill with their thighs and origami unicorns follow a cop into dreams -- onto an even more desperate Earth where rogue replicants farm for protein grubs.
K (played with bemused but endearing detachment by Ryan Gosling) is a cop who, unlike his predecessor Deckard, is fully aware of his artificiality. And this “Blade Runner” does not want to retire his own kind. When K comes to his apartment, the word “Skinner” -- the replicant equivalent of the N-word -- is scrawled on his door. Programed to obey, whatever life K has is literally not his own. But he has his respite.
K takes out a bottle of booze and turns to his holographic girlfriend Joi (played with spirited fidelity by Cuban actress Ana de Armas), and offers her a gift. In the hierarchy of the artificial, Joi is near to the bottom of the great chain of non-being, perhaps one step up from holographic hookers but definitely below the replicants. But she is K’s Joi. And tonight he gives his holographic housemate the ability to move outside the apartment, an upgrade so she may feign to feel rain and, through the body of another replica, pretend to feel K. This, of course, makes her vulnerable. This, of course, affords her the opportunity of sacrifice.
In Blade Runner 2049, romance does not well up into questions of right and wrong as it does in the first film, but is evident at the onset. The logic of the film is one of containment: revolutionary replicants, knowledge of true parentage, and even corporate plots to seed a universe with self-replicating replicants all bound to a very human CEO named Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), all need to be put in prophylactic check.
The replicants who are set to obey, are able, it turns out, able to lie, and even give birth. K’s superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) warns that this last news can’t get out. But K is plagued with doubt, and more: with memory. Despite his understanding that all his memories would be implants, K recalls a wooden horse he had hidden away when he was a young slave. Upon investigation the horse is where he remembers hiding it. Upon examination, the memory is real. But is the memory his? His holographic love insists that he just might be a real live boy -- born instead of built.
On the hunt for knowledge, K seeks out Deckard: now an inebriated reclusive, armed and repetitively watching Elvis simulacrum in his Las Vegas hideout. So ensues a kind of father-son reunion, replete with banter about books, and body blows, and bourbon.
From a soundtrack that borrows, yet extends menacingly, from the original Vangelis score, to the way the empathy test has evolved from smoky room questions about turtles on their backs to a kind of voice-modulated instigating poetry with all the force of an Anne Sexton confessional, so much of the pleasure of Blade Runner 2049 may be attributed to an amorous retouching of near flawless elements of the original.
But there is one factor of finesse that really seals the deal. The character of Gaff, the motivating specter of an officer in the original film who first brings Deckard out of retirement. Gaff is now sitting himself in stoic retirement, wearing the same ice cream parlor bow tie we last saw him in when he stood in the rain with a fedora and cane. Where once Gaff advised Deckard to go after Rachel and so go with his heart, he now sits in a rest home counseling K before what will be the cop’s first and last chance to earn his essence.
If Gaff is not the heart of Blade Runner 2049, he is certainly its most steadfast stone.