Blade Runner 2049 has a lot in common with its predecessor: beautiful cinematography, super-strong robots, cherished memories that may or may not be real, you name it. Unfortunately, there’s one aspect in which the new film surpasses its predecessor: The plot is incredibly complicated! Not Batman v Superman levels of confusing, no, but still — hard to follow. Below, Vulture’s Rachel Handler, Nate Jones, Abraham Riesman, and Emily Yoshida try to get to baseline on the film’s plot.
Spoilers ahead for Blade Runner 2049.
Nate Jones: The broad strokes of 2049 are not that hard to follow. Ryan Gosling is a robot cop who discovers that some replicants had a baby 30 years ago. He’s assigned to find the kid but slowly starts to think he might be the baby. Then he tracks down the dad, only to find it’s Harrison Ford’s Deckard, but then a bunch of bad guys show up and Gosling and Ford try their best to survive. Oh, and along the way, Gosling discovers he’s not actually the baby.
It’s when you get into specifics that things start to break down. What was Jared Leto’s whole deal? I get that he wants to create replicants that can breed, just like Tyrell did, but if replicants can breed, doesn’t that kind of ruin his business of being the only guy who builds replicants? And what was the point of that long scene of him gutting the new model?
Speaking of replicants: If Mackenzie Davis’s replicant rebel is the one who put a tracking device on Ryan Gosling, why were Leto’s people the ones who tracked him to Las Vegas? And if Leto’s people were tracking Gosling’s car, why did Gosling continue to drive his car around so casually the rest of the movie — even driving it to see the one person whose identity he really wants to keep secret at the end?
Rachel Handler: I echo all of these questions, Nate, specifically regarding Wallace’s flagrant replicant-murders, which blatantly contrast with his stated goal of “having a shit ton of replicants.” And I have a few more questions of my own. Where, exactly, is this robot revolution that was so important that Mackenzie Davis had to hologram-fuck a stranger to propel it forward? (Was that whole thread just setting up a sequel?)
Emily Yoshida: It’s pretty clear the only reason the “robot rebellion” plot came up was so that Gosling could find out he wasn’t the chosen one. Thinking about a Replicant Wars 2049 sequel (2050?) makes me so bored I could dream of electric sheep.
Rachel: I also have some questions about replicants. It seems pointless to create hologram girlfriends when you can create a perfectly good flesh-bound girlfriend, no? And if Deckard is, in fact, a replicant, why is he aging? If Deckard is allowed to age, why isn’t Rachael? If Tyrell engineered replicants that were able to breed, but the present-day replicants think that their procreative abilities are an act of God, and they base their entire revolution on this false belief, will Trump get a second term?
Abraham Riesman: I’m with you guys all the way here. In addition to the specific holes and inconsistencies, there were also some general structural problems to the plot that partially deflated the experience for me. Jared Leto’s Wallace just sorta … goes away near the end. Also, the idea that this world wouldn’t have cloud computing is just bonkers. Why would you have to confine your Joi to an apartment console and a handheld device? It feels like a cheap rule added to the story in order to add a fridging moment in which Joi can “die” and thus further motivate K to get revenge.
Emily: It also seemed a little inadvisable that Luv would destroy Joi’s wireless device given that it’s probably a great source of intel on K. There’s nothing in it for her to “kill” Joi! Joi can’t punch back! Still, I understand why Joi exists and is not a replicant herself. There’s a kind of nesting-doll progression of artificial consciousness, starting with regular humans, then replicants, then bots like Joi, who is basically just Sexy Alexa. Gosling’s replicant detective having his own pet robot is like when you give a little stuffed toy dog to a real dog and it’s cute because the pet has a pet!
But back to what I think is the main question here: Is Deckard a replicant? He tells K that “we were being hunted” but it’s unclear if he includes himself in that group simply because of his relationship to Rachael. Is the revolutionary nature of a potential replicant baby that a replicant can get pregnant by a human, or by another replicant? You would think the latter — throwing a bunch of replicants on an off-world colony and letting them fuck their way to a population boom, would make Wallace’s goal come to fruition a lot faster than having to send shipments of human sperm along with them (sorry if that’s too graphic for you, but this is what serious film criticism looks like). So all that would seem to point to “Deckard = replicant.” But then, there’s the aging. And the peril of drowning in that beach fight scene.
Can replicants drown though? How was choking Luv what finally did her in after multiple bullet wounds? What even is a replicant again? One thing that seems clear to me is that 2049 starts to slip when it tries to tell a plotty, technical story with elements that were previously kept on the impressionistic side.
Abraham: Great point about Luv’s sudden departure. The lack of clear rules about replicants in this movie is disappointing, given that there were interesting ones in Blade Runner — mainly that they die after a few years and that you can identify them using the Voight-Kampff machine. Here, with the open-ended lifespans, the replacement of Voight-Kampff with the significantly less interesting eyeball scan, and the possibility of pregnancy, they’re more or less just superhumanly strong humans, as far as the action of any given scene goes. But speaking of replicant identification, Emily: I saw the “we were being hunted” thing as being about him and Rachael as a couple, not necessarily as replicants. One thing I liked about the last third of the movie was that it didn’t conclusively answer the Deckard-as-replicant question. That said, I would’ve preferred that the film just not get into it at all, rather than offer confusing bits like the aforementioned line and the Wallace/Deckard scene (RIP CGI Sean Young; they really did you dirty). The dialogue in that latter interaction was so confusing! Why would Wallace beat around the bush about whether he thinks Deckard is a replicant? I know he likes florid speech, but it seems like he would’ve had a theory and stuck to it, rather than waffling on matters of love and mathematics. And why would he abandon it so casually, if it was so important to him?
Nate: The reason, of course, is so he can talk about it in the sequel. Get hyped for Blade Runner 2050, baby!