A Flawed Masterpiece - A Critique of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2049’

"Following up a classic is an impossible task, and Denis Villeneuve was brave (and perhaps a little crazy?) to attempt it. As any sequel arriving decades after the original must, this film is bound to disappoint. There are a number of things to admire about it; it is certainly a bold attempt. It is not a ‘failure’ in that sense, but nor is it a total success, and it is already being fiercely picked over by cineastes of various stripes. It falls into that special category of flawed masterpieces (among which I would include Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, Wes Anderson's 'The Life Aquatic' and David Fincher’s ‘Alien 3’) for which I have a certain affection..."

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So began my first stab at a critical piece on the film. I have since seen it again and moderated my views somewhat. I admire parts of the film more, and am still uncomfortable with others. I hope to synthesize all of these thoughts and feelings in a longer critical piece in the coming days. 

And here it is (almost a month later...)

WHY 'BLADE RUNNER 2049' JUST DOESN'T WORK (FOR ME) - *SPOILERS APLENTY*

“Action’s like a sack - it won’t stand up if it’s empty. And to make it stand up, you first need to fill it with all the reasons and feelings that have brought it about.” ―Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author

This is not less than my fourth attempt to summarize as succinctly as possible why I think ‘Blade Runner 2049’, despite having many strong elements and moments, is such a strangely dissatisfying film. A month after its release, and maybe 10,000 words later, I can’t seem to stop thinking or writing about it, mostly for the wrong reasons. It honestly pains me that this film is not better than it is, because a lot of it is very good. But not enough to motivate me to sit through some of its most misconceived and problematic scenes a third time.

The nearest I can come to summing it all up is to say that it is a good—possibly great—film trapped in the narrative architecture of a bad film.

(Incidentally, I would say something similar about ‘The Force Awakens’ – a fun film which lives up to the tone and spirit of the original in many ways, but the plot is an unholy mess.)

But, don’t get me wrong: the bad film smothering the good one in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a bad film of the highest grade. This is not ‘Showgirls’, a film that is laughably bad from the word go; nor is it that nearly 20-year-old disaster of a sci-fi prequel that dare not speak its own name; nor is it ‘Prometheus’ which starts well and continues in pretty good form for maybe 30 or 40 minutes before going so badly off the rails that the audience I saw it with was laughing openly at its absurdities by the end.

No, to his great credit, Denis Villeneuve – who is, of course, a very talented filmmaker and clearly poured his heart and soul into this project – never loses control of the tone. We do not laugh at ‘Blade Runner 2049’, even if some of its plot mechanics do leave us scratching our heads. The tone and mood of the film are its chief virtues, and the things it has recreated most faithfully from the original. Unfortunately, the things that make a film worth watching over and over again – compelling, complex, persuasive characters, and a story that is surprising, moving, yet internally consistent and coherent – are lacking.

So what about that plot? There’s certainly a lot of it, maybe too much. It almost feels like a TV season’s worth of plot awkwardly shoehorned into a nearly 3-hour film. The story is intriguing, but difficult to follow, even for fans of the original – for new audience members, likely impossible. It seems to want to be ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘Memento’ or ‘The Sixth Sense’ – one of those puzzle films that sends you racing back to the beginning to see how all the pieces fit into place – and where, if anywhere, the filmmakers may have cheated to make it work.

When that approach works, it’s a thrilling movie-going experience. When it doesn’t, you just feel kind of ripped off, because so much time has been spent misdirecting you and withholding relevant information, and the puzzle pieces - in the end - don't actually fit together. Having to re-watch ‘Blade Runner 2049’ just to figure out what is happening and why is a disappointing experience, because – on a second viewing – you only discover more holes, more flaws, more head-scratchers, more reasons to doubt that there is a story worth telling underneath it all.

(To minimize spoilers here, I will append to this post a list of some of the most egregious plot holes, as well as odd borrowings from the novel, for those who want to know in more detail what I’m talking about.)

DO GENETICALLY ENGINEERED HUMANS DREAM OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SHEEP?

What is ‘Blade Runner 2049’ actually about? It’s the story of a Replicant police officer, K. (Ryan Gosling), who, like so many artificial beings in the movies, seems to want to be really human. As a result of an investigation he undertakes, he begins to suspect that he is the natural-born offspring of the Replicant Rachael (Sean Young) and her lover, police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who have been missing for 30 years. (Already, it should be clear that if you haven’t seen the first film, you are in serious trouble.) In the end, however, K. learns that he is not their son, yet he nobly decides to sacrifice his life in order to reunite Deckard with the long-lost child, who has already turned up somewhere else in the plot.

That’s a potentially compelling story, and in many parts of the film it is – setting aside the swarm of questions it raises as to why a Replicant would be employed as a Blade Runner in the first place, much less trusted with investigating the bombshell of the world’s first Replicant baby. If you take the movie in very superficially, just sort of floating on the surface of the grungy, gorgeous world it depicts, it looks, feels and sounds like a great film.

All of the artists involved in the look and sound of the film – from cinematographer Roger Deakins, to production designer Dennis Gassner, to composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch – do an admirable job, and are sure to get Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, the more time you spend with this film, the less sense it all makes, and finally, it irritates us for being so close to great, and yet so fundamentally flawed.

So what wen't wrong?

A good place to start is with the question of what a Replicant actually is. In the first film Replicants were something between an android and an organic being. Deckard calls them ‘machines’: “A Replicant is like any other machine; either they’re a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my concern,” he says on first meeting Rachael. In this new film, however, the notion of what a Replicant is has shifted toward something more like a genetically engineered human – after all, one of them (Rachael), has apparently been able to give birth.

(Part of what handicaps this film is that androids were still a relatively new idea in 1982, and we had never seen something like the Voight-Kampff test - obviously modelled on the Turing test - in a film before. It all felt very new. Now, we've seen these ideas explored better and more thoroughly in other films - Spielberg's 'A.I.', Alex Garland's 'Ex Machina', Spike Jonze's 'Her'. So although there are a lot of different sci-fi concepts in 'Blade Runner 2049', none of them feels fresh. The original inspired many imitators, whereas this one feels like it is referencing any number of other latter-coming sci-fi films.)

Adding to the confusion, the opening preamble tells us that there are several different generations of Replicants running around, and that some of them are more human than others. But we have no idea who is who, nor how many of them are out there. In the original film, there were only five Replicants (all of the same generation), and we were introduced to all of them clearly within about the first 20 minutes of the film. In this film, we have no idea if they are a majority of the population, or a tiny minority. We have characters like Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), a prostitute who chastises K. for not liking “real girls”. But is she ‘real’? Her fellow prostitutes’ dialogue seems to suggest they are all Replicants. We have no idea. And each new character we meet only provokes further doubts.

Someone will object, ‘But that’s the whole point. Where is the line between humans and Replicants? It’s all about that ambiguity.’

Ambiguity – to a purpose – is fine. But simply confusing the audience or withholding relevant information does not make for a fun – or meaningful – movie going experience. To gather the meaning of a story, to have its insights ignite in our brain in real time as if we are discovering them for ourselves, we need a fighting chance at understanding the world and the characters we are being presented with.

Science fiction has a particular burden to bear in this regard: it has to create a world complex enough to be persuasive, but simple enough to make intuitive sense to the audience. To see this done well, watch the first 20 minutes of Rian Johnson’s ‘Looper’ or James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2’. To see it done badly, well, you need look no further.

This is why the original ‘Blade Runner’ was given voice-over narration in its initial release, and it remains a useful introduction for people coming to the Blade Runner world for the first time. But the original film actually contains all the information we need to understand what is going on in the dialogue. The story of ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is several times more complicated than the original, we have no voice-over to guide us, and one of the characters who might help shed light on things - Jared Leto’s Wallace, the brilliant if also insane creator of the current generation(s?) of Replicants - speaks only in philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

Incidentally, as a film prof of mine pointed out, he is little more than a cartoon Bond villain. He has no redeeming or humanizing qualities, and thus, is a cliché psychopath. This is a basic storytelling flaw: you need to do something to make your villain relatable, charming, halfway likeable. Wallace is just repulsive and sadistic, an unpleasant wasted opportunity. (Compare him with the warm humanity of Tyrell in the original, who clearly loved his creations, and was grieved that he could not make them more perfect.)

But I digress. The point is, complicated stories are fine, if – ultimately – they make sense and they move us, but this one makes precious little sense, and its emotional pay-offs are undermined by major problems with the plot and characters.

At times, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ does achieve greatness. And these moments come throughout the film, not just near the beginning. The opening with Sapper Morton is excellent. The baseline test - genius. The visit to Ana Stelline's studio, and the play of emotions on her face as she watches her own memory play out in K.'s mind - incredible. The chemistry between Ford and Gosling - great. The ending, when Deckard and Stelline are reunited - wonderful. That’s what’s so frustrating about it. It starts well, then jumps the shark in places, gets good again, dissolves into incoherence in places, recovers again… It’s exhausting. Each great moment is surrounded by such rickety narrative architecture that you can’t bear to think of how we got there, or how we get from this moment to the next, because the more you think about it, the more the story falls apart.

A BAFFLING, BUT BEAUTIFUL TRIP TO THE ORPHANAGE

Take the orphanage sequence just as an example. It all builds to one genuinely great, moving moment: the discovery of a wooden horse, doubtless meant to resonate with the unicorn imagery in the original. But what it takes to get there is so nonsensical it substantially undermines this shining cinematic moment.

K. finds various clues that lead him to investigate an orphanage in a garbage dump where he may or may not have spent time himself as a child. He flies out there in his LAPD squad car and is shot out of the sky by seemingly lawless scavengers. (Whether he has any lawful authority in this area outside the city, the film gives us no clear indication.) Drawn into a fight with the scavengers on the ground, K. is literally rescued from the sky by something like a drone controlled by Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the right-hand woman to Wallace.

(Are you following this? Have I lost you yet?)

This is a classic screenwriting mistake, the so-called deus ex machina: K. is rescued from a bad situation by sheer luck, and not any action or effort of his own. Therefore, it is meaningless in story terms.

But even taken at face value, does the scene make any sense? He should know whether it is the LAPD or Wallace’s people coming to his rescue. And if it is not the LAPD, shouldn’t he be concerned that he is being followed so closely, and ‘helped’ with such violent force? And for what reason, he must be wondering. Isn’t this a giant red-flag raiser? Shouldn’t he think twice about what he’s doing or search himself for bugs, tracers or other monitoring devices?

But he does nothing of the sort. He just proceeds on his way, doing nothing to hide his whereabouts or his conceal actions. Why? Because the plot requires him to, not because any actual human being – much less a trained detective – would do so in reality.

‘But he’s not a human being!’ someone will object. Okay, then here are a couple of problems with telling stories about non-human characters:

1)   Our basic way-finding tool, in any story, is our common-sense understanding of human behaviour and psychology. This is what we all use to navigate our way through stories and to judge their credibility, particularly in science fiction, where everything else is so alien to us. Human behaviour is our only reliable map, and here it is totally scrambled, because so few of the characters are actually humans! So how am I supposed to follow a story, be moved by it or draw any meaning from it, when the screenwriters have disabled my primary way-finding tool in advance by casting the story with mostly non-human characters?

2)   Audiences need a human surrogate in the story who behaves like a normal person and reacts to the situations around him/her the way we would. Without this surrogate – and we have none in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ – we are permanently disoriented, to say nothing of emotionally disinvested.

In any case, once Luv has wiped out his attackers, K. blithely walks into the orphanage – meeting no resistance or security checks of any kind – and is received like a Messiah by a bunch of bald orphans. (So not only does K. fail to behave like a normal human, no one else does either.)

He proceeds into the main part of the orphanage, where legions of (white) children are recycling computers and electronics. No one objects to his presence there, or wants to know what the hell just happened outside. No one seems alarmed, angry, anxious or to have any other reaction to the fact that – we can only assume – their comrades have all just been blown away.

K. proceeds to beat up the manager(?) of the orphanage – a black man, incidentally. (As messy as the film’s gender politics are, its racial politics are nearly as bad; later he shoots a black man in the face at point blank range.) The brutalized manager obligingly shows K. the records of the orphanage, but the relevant record has apparently been destroyed (by whom we have no idea – maybe Sapper Morton?).

But it doesn’t matter because the real purpose of the whole sequence is for K. to realize he’s been there before, in childhood, and to find physical proof of it: a wooden horse he left hidden in a disused furnace. This confirms that his memory was real – further evidence that he might be ‘real’ – but the question remains whether it was his memory or just an implant.

This moment, the discovery of the horse, is brilliantly and beautifully handled. It is what Denis Villeneuve does best. And I am a fan of his slow-burn style of filmmaking, where relatively small moments like this are super-charged with meaning. I like this a lot better than these weightless action sequences where nothing is of any consequence because it is all just so much colourful computer animation knocking itself about onscreen. This is one of the film’s great moments.

But it is surrounded by inexplicable plot points left and right. The events leading up to it and away from it (K. somehow returns safely to Los Angeles, even though his squad car was shot down and is presumably still inoperable) just don’t make any sense. And this is true of most of the sequences in the film, including the spectacular Las Vegas sequence and the final fight in the water.

It feels as if the plot is simply built around these set-pieces (he has to find the horse; he has to get to Vegas; we have to have a fight in the water), but the screenwriters couldn’t find sufficiently persuasive reasons to string them together, so they gloss over the missing connective tissue hoping we won’t notice (but, of course, we will), and you end up with a film that looks and sounds great but which fails to tell a very satisfying story.

The final fight, as great as it is in some ways, suffers from similar problems. I do like that it is small-scale and intimate, if high stakes, as in the original film. I also like that Deckard is prevented from saving himself, and looks rather vulnerable (he is in his 70s, after all), giving K. the opportunity to be the one and only hero.

But the ostensible reason for the fight – Wallace’s henchmen and women are taking Deckard off-world to torture him, because for some inexplicable reason they can’t torture Deckard on earth (even though they can walk into LAPD HQ, steal evidence and murder officers and staff with impunity) – makes no sense. And part of the reason it makes no sense is that we don’t understand the power-structure of this world well enough to judge this pretext as credible, rather than as something the screenwriters threw in at the last minute to justify a stand-alone action set-piece.

Even as a set-piece, the fight is not perfect, however. A number of people have commented that Luv’s drowning goes on rather too long. I hope it’s not pleasurable in 2017 for most audiences to watch the brutal drowning death of a woman. I certainly didn’t take pleasure in it.

But in terms of storytelling mechanics, it lacks meaning because Luv and K. have no personal animus against each other. They have only met once before in a purely instrumental, procedural sort of scene at Wallace HQ. They are both Replicants, and Luv is essentially just following orders.

(Incidentally, if she wanted to kill him, why didn’t she do it in Las Vegas, instead of leaving him for dead? Again, because the plot requires it – so K. can get picked up by the Resistance, or whatever they call themselves – not because it makes any sense.)

K. is acting out of a kind of free will, but their fight has no deeper meaning, because they mean nothing to each other. If Luv were a true femme fatale (this is, after all, a neo-noir), she and the hero would have some real relationship, and that would inform their final confrontation. Not here. They are just obstacles in each other’s paths. They have nothing to say to each other, no witty or profound banter to exchange. No one is fighting to persuade the other that they deserve to live, or that they are human, as Batty did with Deckard at the end of the original film. They just beat each other up in silence, and there is nothing to distract us from the brutal violence of that essentially meaningless encounter.

PATRIARCHY, DYSTOPIA, AND MALE FANTASY

Which brings us to a frequent talking point around this film: is it sexist or misogynistic? A strong case could certainly be made. There is an awful lot of sexualized violence against women in it, as well as general objectification of women’s bodies. Defenders of it may say, ‘But that’s faithful to the original film.’ Actually, I think it is more than faithful – it amps up both the violence and the objectification five-fold. But was this necessary?

The difficulty I have is that the filmmakers give us no hint as to whether they think there is any problem with this, or whether they just think it is kind of titillating and ‘edgy’ (as they likely did in the original). It is disturbing to think, in 2017, that women can still be used so casually as sex objects and victims of male violence in entertainment without comment.

But whether you think it is misogynistic or not, the lack of complex, consistent female characters is a huge missed opportunity – we might even say a failure of imagination. The film actually has quite a large cast of female characters, but very few of them have any agency of their own.

One, Joi (Ana de Armas), is literally a holographic housemaid/fantasy sex partner, and – no offense to the actress portraying her – but I don’t know why I want to spend three hours getting to know a character that is literally not a character in any meaningful sense of the term. Stories are about humans facing human problems in recognisable human ways. A robot/android/Replicant who is in love with a hologram following a clichéd male fantasy love-script is getting pretty far removed from the subject matter of any (human) story worthy of the name.

If Joi expressed any discontentment at all with her situation – being switched on and off at will – she could have been a much more interesting character and would have given women in the audience something to hang onto. (To see this done much better, see Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s ‘Air Doll’.) She does play a significant role in the plot – I think she is the closest thing to a real femme fatale – but it seems to go unnoticed by K., the person it affects the most, so the audience can be forgiven for thinking her feeble protestations of love are to be taken at face value.

Those female characters that do have some agency (Freysa, Mariette) are generally on screen so little that we have no chance to hear their stories, or even understand their motives.

Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) is intriguing and potentially complex, though she too fits into a patriarchal trope: the unsullied virgin kept safe in her tower. As a friend said to me, “She’s the only woman in the film you can’t f&$% or kill.”

Those that get more screen time, like Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), say and do inexplicable things that undermine the sense that there is a coherent character there at all.

It really is remarkable to think that for the length of this film and the size of its cast, we really don’t meet one fully fleshed out character, save perhaps Deckard, who carries half or more of his humanity into the film from its predecessor.

WHEN ‘GOOD’ MOVIES FAIL

I have tremendous admiration for the sheer force of will it must take to direct a film and keep all the moving parts in line. It’s an insanely complicated affair with all of its doubtless crazy-making financial, time and other pressures. So I feel for Denis Villeneuve, I really do. It pains me to say these things about his film, because I really wanted to love it.

Some commentators have noted that for all its Asian visual references – kanji and katakana signs, Wallace’s yukata – there are almost no Asian faces in the film, unlike the original, which at least had Asian characters in supporting roles. This was, I suspect, due to the decision to film in Hungary, rather than Los Angeles. But still, it is a notable oversight. And another reason why this story might have worked better as a prestige TV series, rather than a film. This would have provided an opportunity to explore other stories, give some life and dimension to the female characters, and show some diversity in the Blade Runner universe.

Again, it is a very high-grade failure, but a failure nonetheless, which makes all the handwringing about why this “good” film is doing so badly at the box office a bit comical.

Let’s see: it’s brutally violent, presents a grim dark future when we are living through a grim dark present moment, has no really good roles for women or minorities, it’s glacially paced, it’s nearly 3 hours long, it’s a sequel to a 35-year-old film that was itself a flop and that most people have never seen – oh, and the story is next-to-impossible to follow, and makes no sense in any case, even if you have seen the original. Why isn’t it a bigger success? I wonder…

My question is, why in the lead-up to the film’s release weren’t more critics able to see through the hype and say what is obvious: the film works on every level except the most important one, that of story. The only answer is that most film critics are among the smaller-than-we-thought group of people who admire the original and thus were predisposed to like this one. In short, they saw what they wanted to see, not what was actually there.

But for all the beauty of the images, the performances and the soundtrack, without a story that works, no matter how good it looks or sounds, you just don’t have much of a film.

 Rachel (Sean Young) and Deckard (Harrison Ford) - the emotional centre of 1982's 'Blade Runner'

Rachel (Sean Young) and Deckard (Harrison Ford) - the emotional centre of 1982's 'Blade Runner'

Top 15 Plot Holes, Problems, Quibbles & Queries with ‘Blade Runner 2049’:

  1. If all the newer model Replicants have serial numbers in their eyes, then K. should be able to just scan himself to find out if he was born or not. If born, he shouldn’t have a serial number. One quick scan with the device he used on Sapper Morton in the opening fight and the whole impetus for the film is eliminated. The story is not necessary!
  2. Unlike the opening to the original film, in which an immature Replicant (Leon) snaps and kills his interviewer - thereby establishing the Replicants' volatility and the danger they represent - this film starts with K. (Ryan Gosling) murdering in cold blood a Replicant (Sapper Morton) who appears to be doing no one any harm, and is in fact quietly going about his business growing food to feed the denizens of L.A. At minimum, this is a very confusing start - particularly for people new to the Blade Runner world. Why are upstanding Replicant members of the community like Sapper Morton being killed? And is K. a good guy we are supposed to sympathize with or a bad guy we are supposed to despise and mistrust? Again, someone coming to this story with no knowledge of the previous film could be forgiven for thinking it's the latter.
  3. Wallace has no way of knowing there was a baby, but speaks of it from the first moment he is on screen. (You might call this a cheat more than a hole, but we need to know how he knows.) The only possible conduit for such info is Joi, but K. has not discussed the likely existence of a child with her yet. Now, there is a potential explanation for this built into the film, it would seem, but you have to be quite a detective to find it, you have to make a bunch of pretty flimsily justified assumptions, and some of its details contradict the original film. A fan theory on the Internet is that Rachael is a Nexus 7, because her serial number starts with ‘N7.’ In the original film, she is identified as a Nexus 6, but maybe Tyrell was lying. (Her original difference was that she was the only one with implanted memories to give her a stable emotional life, but now we are adding another layer of complications.) It’s possible that by showing up and asking questions about Rachael, K. tips Luv/Wallace off to the fact that there is something special about her. And maybe when they search the records, they discover that Rachael was designed to be a capable of carrying a child. That’s demanding a lot of an audience to think they are going to put all that together. And we keep hearing about this blackout in 2022 that is supposed to have destroyed most electronic records, so it’s convenient that this detail is somehow preserved in the Tyrell archives. It’s a stretch, to say the least.
  4. Lt. Joshi says that Rachael/Deckard’s child will “break the world”, but why? Replicants have, presumably, been having sex for decades without producing children. Wallace cannot, for all his efforts, produce fertile Replicants. Rachael was once able to produce a child with a possibly human, possibly Replicant lover (Deckard), but the fact that one Replicant did it once is not much of a threat, especially given that she's now been safely dead for 30-odd years. You’re not suddenly going to have armies of natural-born Replicants.
  5. When K. goes to the orphanage, he is protected from his attackers by a kind of drone controlled by Luv, but seems not to find this odd or remarkable. He should know if this is LAPD or some other actor. And since it is clearly some other actor, it means he is being followed by higher powers and ought to take appropriate measures to hide his movements. He takes no such action.
  6. After a fierce firefight outside, K. walks into the orphanage and is received like Jesus. No one is alarmed by his presence or wants to know what has just happened outside. Nor is the building guarded in any way. He’s even able to physically assault the leader(?) of the orphanage, and no one stands up to K., when presumably the same group of people outside were ready to kill him. What sense does this make? If he is outside of LA, what authority does he have to do any of this, and why would anyone tolerate it?
  7. Lt. Joshi accepts on no evidence except K.’s word that he has completed his mission (of killing Deckard/Rachael’s child), yet the film earlier established the protocol of producing an eyeball for identification purposes. Granted, the child should not have a serial number [see #2 above], but Joshi is awfully gullible not to see his story for the transparent, self-serving lie it is, especially given the odd circumstances under which he was hauled in.
  8. Luv is twice able to walk into LAPD headquarters, steal evidence and murder officers and staff, including a Lieutenant, with no apparent consequences. There is also no security camera footage of these incidents?
  9. After K.’s ‘escape’ from the LAPD, he wastes 10 – 14 hours sleeping off a virtual ménage-a-trois, and despite his protests to the contrary, we never see any evidence that the LAPD is pursuing him, even though he is AWOL and his boss is soon lying dead in her office. He even escapes in what appears to be an LAPD squad car. Again, no one at headquarters appears concerned that he (or his vehicle) is missing.
  10. Ana Stelline is said to have an immune disorder which requires her to live in her bubble. Later, we learn that she is the child in K.’s horse memory. But how can she be running around the very dirty orphanage furnace room if she has a life-threatening immune disorder? Wouldn’t she have been in this bubble more or less since birth? And how did she build this brilliant career from inside an isolation bubble?
  11. When Luv and her crew arrive in Las Vegas to pick up Deckard, they inexplicably leave K. behind, even though he is the one who has been investigating the case and knows a hell of a lot more than Deckard.
  12. Why doesn’t K. clue in that Joi is a cipher that has been feeding info back to Wallace, via the cloud, and thus that she has betrayed him? She is the film’s true femme fatale, but because she is not a human with any will or her own, her actions are meaningless from a story point of view. K. should understand – and we should understand – in the end, that he was ‘seduced’ by an illusion, and that it nearly cost him his life. He should react emotionally when he realizes this – around the time Luv arrives in Las Vegas would be logical. How else did they find him, after all? (Deckard poses this question to K. directly, and moments later Joi is back on the scene, even though she was supposed to have been left back at the car. But neither of these PROFESSIONAL DETECTIVES puts two-and-two together!) Of course, it was snapping Joi’s antenna and going offline that alerted Luv to his actions, which K. should also have known would have the exact opposite of the intended effect.
  13. According to Deckard’s own dialogue, (a) he was not present when his child was born, and (b) he never went looking for her, because he didn’t want her dissected. Yet, somehow, she has a carved horse from him with her birthdate inscribed on it. So, did he send it to her after the fact (would seem to go against his dialogue), or leave it with Rachael before he left, and someone else inscribed the date? (But then how/why would he have wood from the place he is GOING TO - Vegas - before he goes there?) Either way, Deckard is a detective: if he is trying to conceal his relationship to the child and his own whereabouts, is sending a piece of wood contaminated with an utterly site-specific trace radioactive element a good way to do this? And is it a good idea to just wait around in that same location for 30 years to be found? K. certainly doesn’t have any trouble finding him there.
  14. The killing of the Rachael clone is painfully gratuitous. It’s offensive on the level of taste. But, also, what sense does it make? If Wallace’s goal is to produce fertile Replicants who can make their own babies, isn’t he at least curious to know if this new Rachael can conceive? And doesn’t Deckard have any sympathy for this being, regardless of where she came from? If she thinks she is Rachael, which it seems she does, then she will be as traumatized by his rejection (for having the wrong eye colour) as Rachael would be. Deckard, Wallace and the film itself treats her as utterly disposable. It is a very difficult scene to watch. I would have happily had it left out of the film entirely.
  15. If, despite that pesky blackout in 2022 (sometimes so convenient, sometimes so annoying), they have accurate DNA records of every child born in the year 2021* – the ones K scans to find himself/Ana – why doesn’t Wallace just take a sample of Deckard/Rachael’s DNA and trace the child that way? Why do they need to torture Deckard, who likely doesn’t (- in fact, he doesn’t -) even know where the child is? And why do they need to go offworld to torture him when they can apparently kill LAPD employees with impunity? He’s not free to torture people inside his big pyramid? How powerful or powerless is he? What is his relationship to the other powerful institutions in this society? We have no idea, so his actions/claims make no sense.

*N.B. There's also a factual error in this scene, where K. is looking at the DNA records. He finds a boy and a girl with identical DNA and then says that two humans can't have the same DNA. Well, of course they can. They are called identical twins. What he likely means is, a male and a female human can't have the same DNA. But even this is not strictly true. If one is intersex or transgender, they could still be genetically identical at birth. Or, if one has androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS), she can be born female and continue to develop as female, but technically have male DNA (XY), and thus, be identical (on that level) to a male twin. Wouldn't it have been interesting if instead of assuming HE was the child of Deckard and Rachael that he and a twin sister he's never met are their children? It's just as logical as the conclusion he draws that he is the only one. But it would come awfully close to the famous twins of the 'Star Wars' series, and, like so many other moments in this story, simply remind us of all the other times we've seen science fiction, fantasy, action films trace similar plot points (the is-it-Bane-or-is-it-Miranda twist in 'Dark Knight Rises' being the obvious analogue for the reveal we get in 'Blade Runner 2049'). 

 

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Some additional problems in this film are, I think, almost accidentally introduced by trying in some ways to be more faithful to Dick’s original novel than was ‘Blade Runner.’ There are a number of elements that are obviously inspired by or pay homage to the novel, but because they have been imported only partially, they create awkward narrative problems that the filmmakers either missed or glossed over hoping we would miss them.

1) RETIRE TO SUNNY CHERNOBYL!

In the book, everyone is living in nuclear fall out from World War Terminus, leading to widespread sterility, emigration to off-world colonies, and the need for artificial animals and humans. They try to keep an aspect of this by putting Deckard in a ruined Las Vegas, but there is no reference to a terminal nuclear war in either film, only an eco-crisis in the 2020's. So if only Las Vegas is contaminated (by a dirty bomb), isn't moving there a pretty strange choice for Deckard? (I mean, running away is one thing; moving to Chernobyl - unless he has a death wish - is pretty odd) And if the radiation has cooled off enough to be safe, why is Deckard the only one in town competing for the oceans of booze apparently left lying around?

2) NUCLEAR WINTER OR GLOBAL WARMING?

Also, they have snow falling in Los Angeles, which is suggestive of nuclear winter - again, a possible nod to the book. But they also have giant seawalls to keep the ocean out, a reference to global warming. So which is it? There is no climate change scenario I am aware of that has snow falling in LA, and nuclear winter would tend to reverse global warming and cause global cooling. They've kind of muddled the two concepts up together, and in any case, when K. and Luv have their final fight, the water level is way down at the base of those giant walls - so they have something solid to scrabble around on - so why are the walls even necessary?

3) MY KINGDOM FOR A (WOODEN) HORSE

Barkhad Abdi’s Doc Badger character, who analyzes the wood for K. and Joi, behaves as if it is extremely valuable and says he can get K. a real horse in exchange for this wooden one. But this makes no sense. Again, in the original film, animals were so rare, valuable and precious that they had synthetic replacements - Zhora's snake, Tyrell's owl. This was consistent with the original novel, but here it is all muddled up. And what earthly use is a tiny piece of wood, anyway, compared to a real live horse? Where would Badger even get this horse? Very puzzling.

4) STERILITY OR OVERPOPULATION?

The orphanage sort of makes sense within the context of this film, but not relative to the original film or the novel. In the book, many people who remain on earth (even Deckard himself) are either infertile or live in fear of becoming so because of nuclear fall-out. So even though the LA of Scott's original film looks like a crowded Asian-megalopolis, the buildings - including Deckard's - feel mostly empty (we never see any of his neighbours, for example). Here, the city is teeming with life (many linger rather oddly right outside K.'s door), and stacked up to the sky (I suppose because of Wallace's miraculous engineering of a new food supply, though no amount of healthy food will reverse radiation-induced sterility). And there's at least one orphanage full of children, but where are these children coming from? If life is so precious, and Replicants are needed to do manual and other forms of disagreeable labour, how can there also be surplus humans?