Since the new millennium, Hollywood has increasingly focused on bringing properties and franchises from its immediate past back onto the big screen (cf. Loock, “Retro-Remaking”; Verevis). Films such as Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005), The Amazing Spider-Man (Webb, 2012), and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt, 2011) are instantly recognizable as reboots of creatively depleted, too expensive, or dormant film franchises in the ways they break with the continuity of a narrative in order to start over with radically redesigned characters and storylines (Loock, “Reboot”; Proctor; Tompkins; and Tryon). More recently, a number of films have challenged this notion of the reboot. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015), Creed (Coogler, 2015), and Terminator: Genisys (Taylor, 2015), for example, are sequels that rely on the return of well-known characters (and actors) and the repetition of narrative and aesthetic codes that foreground the new film’s pre-existence and bind audiences to overarching, ongoing narratives. These films are invested in evoking the enduring cultural and historical significance of their respective franchises and reboot them as they generate new, long-term interest and revenue. Film critic Matt Singer proposed the term “legacyquel” to describe this “very specific kind of sequel … in which beloved aging stars reprise classic roles and pass the torch to younger successors” (see also Albarrán-Torres and Golding on the “legacy film”).
The notion of legacy with its promise of endlessly renewable franchises is not limited to properties with a serial past. It also extends to self-contained, standalone films that are reactivated in the present. Both TRON: Legacy (Kosinski, 2010) and Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve, 2017) are sequels that pick up after more than two or three decades, still starring the same actors in the same roles: Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn and Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard. Interestingly, these films resort to similar strategies to continue the stories of TRON (Lisberger, 1982) and Blade Runner (Scott, 1982), respectively. In TRON: Legacy and Blade Runner 2049, Kevin Flynn and Rick Deckard remain central to the unfolding of the narrative, yet that narrative no longer revolves around the two men but their children – Flynn’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) as well as Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) and K (Ryan Gosling) because, over the course of the film, he (and the viewers) are led to believe that K might, in fact, be Deckard’s son. The quest for the absent father makes it possible to repeat familiar scenarios and builds up suspense for the encounter with (the aged) Flynn/Bridges and Deckard/Ford. The sequel form thus accommodates the passage of time between one film and the next through the theme of generational succession, i.e. continuation is achieved through generationality (cf. Loock, “Retro/Repro”).
What I found particularly striking about Blade Runner 2049’s turn to generationality and biological reproduction is that it entails a radical departure from Blade Runner’s dark and gloomy fictional world. Replicants, humans, planet Earth – the film had left no doubt that none of them would be able to survive. And yet, 35 years later, Blade Runner 2049 tells a very different story. My video essay grapples with this contradiction and argues that it is intricately linked to the sequel form and its reliance on a dialectics of repetition and continuation. The sequel is bound to a linear understanding of time and it is this formal characteristic of linear time that introduces a generational element – and indeed: a possible future – into the Blade Runner story. As Tom Boellstorff has pointed out, linear time is also “straight time,” bringing with it an ideology that scripts the heteronormative timelines of modernity from childhood to adult life, marriage, procreation, and inheritance. It produces what Elizabeth Freeman has called “chrononormativity,” an expected temporal order that is defined by a reproductive, generational, and unerringly future-oriented relation to time. My video essay traces how Blade Runner 2049 subscribes to this ideology and ultimately operates as a vehicle of “reproductive futurism” (Lee Edelman) that normalizes stereotypical gender scripts and endorses nostalgic ideas of family, heterosexuality, and biological reproduction.
To a certain extent, philosophical questions about memory and identity that define Blade Runner still serve the plot in Blade Runner 2049 – as K, Joi (Ana de Armas), and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) each struggle with their identity and non-human existence. As my reading contends, however, such issues are subordinated to (even replaced by) the logic of generational renewal that informs the sequel. Deckard and Rachael’s (Sean Young) “miracle child” thoroughly reconfigures the replicants’ status since posthuman reproduction holds the promise of freedom and a self-determined future. At the same time, it introduces traditional gender roles and the figure of the child into the Blade Runner narrative. My video essay focuses on the three female characters that are relegated to the roles of mother (Rachael), wife (Joi), and daughter (Ana) as well as the film’s obsession with (anachronistic) images of childhood as emblematic elements of the sequel’s turn toward “reproductive futurism.” The video essay uses scenes from both Blade Runner films, onscreen text, and voiceover to unfold its argument, to probe the configurations of gender roles and female agency, and to critically assess the politics of the sequel.
Albarrán-Torres, César Alberto, and Dan Golding. “Creed: Legacy Franchising, Race and Masculinity in Contemporary Boxing Films.” Continuum (2019). Doi: 10.1080/10304312.2019.1567684.
Boellstorff, Tom. “When Marriage Falls: Queer Coincidences in Straight Time.” GLQ 13.2/3 (2007): 227–48.
Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2004.
Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Durham: Duke UP, 2010.
Loock, Kathleen. “Reboot, Requel, Legacyquel: Jurassic World and the Nostalgia Franchise.” Film Reboots. Ed. Daniel Herbert and Constantine Verevis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP (forthcoming).
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---. “Retro/Repro: Zur Reproduktionslogik des Retro-Remaking in Blade Runner 2049.” Rabbit Eye: Zeitschrift für Filmforschung 11 (2019): 44–60. http://www.rabbiteye.de/2019/11/loock_retro.pdf
Proctor, William. “Regeneration & Rebirth: An Anatomy of the Franchise Reboot.” Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies 22 (February 2015).
Tompkins, Joe. “‘Re-imagining’ the Canon: Examining the Discourse of Contemporary Horror Film Reboots.” New Review of Film and Television Studies 12.4 (December 2014): 380-399.
Tryon, Chuck. “Reboot Cinema.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technology 19.4 (2013): 432-437.
Singer, Matt. “Welcome to the Age of the Legacyquel.” ScreenCrush, 23 November 2015, http://screencrush.com/the-age-of-legacyquels/ [last accessed 6 June 2019].
Verevis, Constantine. “New Millennial Remakes.” Media of Serial Narrative. Ed. Frank Kelleter. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State UP, 2017. 148-166.