One of the opening shots in the first trailer for Blade Runner: 2049, the sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, shows something that the original film never dared to: the "birth" of a replicant, the androids that the film's protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling, is tasked with hunting and killing when they go rogue.
The replicant emerges from an artificial placenta, shaking, its breathing coming in ragged gasps. "Happy birthday," whispers a bearded and creepier-than-usual Jared Leto. The audience, one expects, is meant to feel great sympathy for this machine. Leto continues, laying out the subtext of the film (and the original) with all the subtlety of Deckard's hand cannon blasting through a plate glass window: "Every civilization was built off the back of a disposable workforce."
Here, the sequel sets itself apart from the original in a big way. Blade Runner's replicant villains are fundamentally ambiguous beings. Reasons are given to feel sorry for them—a piggish cop describing Pris, an anatomically female replicant, as a "basic pleasure model" is particularly disgusting—but the movie never screams at the viewer, "Hey! These things are basically human! Feel bad for them!" like the sequel's trailer does.
In the original, the house of JF Sebastian, who designed the replicants, is filled with dolls and childish automatons, and the lab where the androids' eyes were "made" is littered with mechanical bric-a-brac. One gets the sense that these replicants were put together like Legos. How different would the audience feel about the towering Roy Batty if they'd seen him fall, naked and scared, out of a bag of robot baby juice?
It seems like Blade Runner: 2049 is intent on making the subtext of the original movie crystal-clear. This could be a huge disservice to the inscrutability of the original, where the existential questions around replicants played out in the backdrop of the micro-level story of an ex-cop pulled back in for one more job. Or, if handled with care, this shift in tone could flesh out the philosophy of the original in a satisfying way.
Either way, the night-shrouded dystopia of Los Angeles still looks amazing.
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