Blade Runner 2049: An Important Film, Regurgitated
1982 was the year Blade Runner hit theaters. One of Ridley Scott’s many masterpieces, with a script by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, it blew the minds of audiences, writers and directors alike through its storyline, acting, and cinematography. It is not uncommon to find a film that echoes Blade Runner. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in 1985, was already recreating the dystopian future Scott gave audiences a glimpse of, only 3 years after Blade Runner’s release. It proved to be an important film for the Sci-Fi genre, as it used futuristic tools to discuss historical problems.
Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve and written again by Hampton Fancher and also Michael Green recognizes the importance of its predecessor, but seems a lot more like an earlier, less honed version of what Scott’s film came to be. It retraces the already well-explored steps of Blade Runner, discussing the differences between Replicants and slaves, but leads to no further epiphanies, no “Aha!” moments. Perhaps the real reason this sequel falls short is because it lacks Roy Batty.
Now those who have seen the original film will know who Roy is. Roy was the bad guy… sort of. He was a Replicant that went haywire, collected a crew and went across the universe to find his creator and become immortal. It all seems rather straightforward, but Roy and his compatriots are anything but straightforward. They seem oddly fond of pretending to be contortionists, and they have a blend of a shy misunderstood attitude with a disarming charisma. The moment when Roy really comes to life is when he is the last standing, facing off with Harrison Ford. It’s not the climactic moment you’d expect. While Deckard, Ford’s character, creeps through the house with a gun in hand to find and kill Roy, Roy strips down to his underwear in the other room and starts sprinting through the hallways. He screams from various rooms and angles at Deckard, taunting him through disjointed rhymes that sound vaguely poetic in their own rugged way. He shoves a nail through his palm to stop his hand from closing up and, when he pulls Deckard’s hand through a wall, he breaks his fingers and then runs off instead of killing him.
Roy’s last name is Batty for a reason. He’s strange and convoluted. But, he’s also interesting. He doesn’t even really end up being the bad guy. He’s lost, angry, and oddly charismatic, but not quite evil. He is the force driving the movie, and his complex face-off with Deckard, his final Christ-like moment, is what defined the film as a classic. His final words haunt the audience, “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... time to die."
His replacement in Blade Runner 2049, played by Jared Leto, is a poor substitute. He is a sadistic tyrant with a strange appetite for success that verges on the sexual. This, we have seen before in countless action movies. But Roy was unique, layered. Any attempt at the complexity of characterization found in the original Blade Runner is lost in the sequel’s stunning visual effects. While Blade Runner 2049 does recognize the importance of its predecessor, it sheepishly avoids taking any risks or making any impacts of its own. It takes beautiful artistry and breathtaking editing and treats it as a stand-in for the kind of intricate storytelling that defined Blade Runner.