- Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve US 2017)
Few sf film sequels have been more anticipated than a follow-up to Ridley Scott's foundational cyberpunk film Blade Runner (US/Hong Kong 1982). As such, there has been a long history of speculation about who would direct, produce and fund the sequel, and when it would be released. This is not altogether surprising, considering the long afterlife and post-production history of the original Blade Runner (of which seven different versions exist); the announcement of Blade Runner 2049 (2017), therefore, was shrouded with a veil of both mystery and excitement. Even after it was revealed that Denis Villeneuve would direct and Ridley Scott would produce, the film's creators were notoriously secretive about revealing plot points and guarding against leaked information, releasing few glimpses of the film aside from an enigmatic trailer and even asking early reviewers to avoid spoilers.
Blade Runner 2049 opens with an updated version of a scene that was originally cut from the 1982 Blade Runner. 'K' (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the LAPD as a blade runner, retiring–the grim euphemism for killing first unveiled in the original film–obsolete replicants. In a notable aesthetic contrast from what we have come to expect from the media-drenched cityscape of the original Blade Runner milieu, K pulls into a desolate rural farmhouse where a boiling pot whistles on the stove. After a violent altercation, K retires early-model replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) and retrieves Sapper's eyeball (stamped with his serial number) for registration in the replicant database. As he leaves the property, K recovers a mysterious box that he finds through a scan of the grounds, ceremonially buried beneath a tree and housing the bodily remains of a female replicant. Forensic analysis eventually reveals that the female replicant died during an emergency caesarean section, disrupting the universally believed notion that replicants are sterile. For fear of the catastrophic consequences that would result from this information going public, K's superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), scrambles to destroy the evidence of the female replicant and orders K to find– and retire–the replicant child. K has a holographic girlfriend named Joi (Ana de Armas), one of his only comforts in a gruesome profession that requires him to retire earlier models [End Page 513] of his own species and his solitary domestic life in a dilapidated apartment reserved for 'skin jobs', a slur used to refer to the bioengineered replicants. Joi cooks K dinner and dotes on him, but her ephemerality and limitations as a digital woman become apparent when she glitches in the rain, or when she can be paused mid-kiss by K's boss calling him back to his work obligations. A wooden horse that K finds at the farmhouse gravesite triggers a recurring memory about a toy wooden horse that he once had as a youth while living at a children's orphanage, evidence that Joi thinks proves he is a 'real boy' rather than a replicant with implanted, manufactured memories. The numbers etched on the bottom of the wooden horse and the tree where the female replicant was buried, coupled with his failure on a mandatory baseline obedience test, spur K to track down his birth records at a DNA centre and a children's orphanage in San Diego. Attempting to decipher if his memories provide evidence of his humanity, K's journey leads him to Dr Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), the most talented memory designer in the business, whose job it is to construct replicant memories in order to give them a compelling sense of personal history. While trying to unearth his backstory, K discovers an underground freedom movement fighting for replicant rights and, by extension, a world teetering on the brink of radical upheaval.
The time that has passed between the two films is acknowledged both by the viewer and the cinematic universe itself. The first Blade Runner is set in 2019, a projected future only two years beyond Blade Runner 2049's real...