A Series of Thoughts On Blade Runner 2049
Spoilers ahead. A lot of them.
2049 successfully captured many elements of the original film in a way genuinely didn’t expect it to, and that’s far more than I expected. It was overlong, visually split between disgusting and spotless, and absolutely stuffed with obvious and subtle hidden meanings. Above and beyond my expectations as far as living up to the spirit of the original.
I particularly found the way that it built on the visual aesthetics of the original very well done. It’s not just an evolution of the same styling, exactly, it feels like an expansion of it. The baroque architecture is still there, but the technology outpaces it a little more than the original.
Jared Leto is in this movie and he fuckin sucks. He’s just a shitty person. He also plays a shitty person, but not really well enough for me to get over the fact that he is a shitty person.
While Blade Runner was content to have women as, mostly, props for the grand question of “Can you fuck a replicant”, 2049 also uses them as props for many other things, like “can you love a replicant” or “a symbolic representation of excess”.
I’m exaggerating a little bit, I guess, but the most coherent point that 2049 seemed to have regarding feminine bodies was that they are a symbol of status &/or wealth &/or excess. If this is a critique, it’s not a very deep one, and it’s undercut by the fact that every female character with speaking lines doesn’t really comment on or address this at all.
Is it the duty of female characters to remark on societal misogyny? Probably not, but 2049 doesn’t really say much about it at all, other than some vague gestures at how weird it is to want to fuck something but not also to be in love with it. Which is really a whole other issue to unpack.
They really go hard on the “replicants are slaves” motif that I don’t feel was quite as obvious in the original. This isn’t that bad, really. It was subtle in the original and it’s overt in the sequel. That’s not an unusual choice to make.
It is a bit unusual in that basically all the replicants are white people (though, notably, not in the anime prequel Black Out 2022, directed by Cowboy Bebop’s Shinichiro Watanabe and scored by the fantastic Flying Lotus). As usual with sci-fi racism, making the connection obvious but not following through with the lived realities of race leads to a bit clumsy portrayal of the whole oppressive system.
That whole scene with the replicant resistance leader Freysa stood out to me, for good and bad reasons.
The good is that the twist was actually interesting and, I’ll admit, something I didn’t see coming. Other people might have. I was pretty engrossed and frankly, I don’t often look out for those sort of tells. However, it’s a twist that actually makes sense, and moreover helps underscore the messages of the story in general.
The bad is that that scene felt like the only time in the movie where it was really concerned with Building The Universe, which is just frankly not an important part of a noir story.
And that’s important, because ultimately Blade Runner is a noir story (for better & for worse). It’s not a ‘cyberpunk story’ in that it doesn’t really engage with the world other than by a few key actors. That scene, which felt like a huge weird setup for a sequel with a bunch of action elements or whatever, felt completely out of place.
I see why it’s necessary because of the twist reveal, but it really could have been handled better.
One of the few black dudes in the movie is a cruel orphanage owner named, I shit you not, “Mister Cotton”.
I extremely appreciate that there was an undercurrent throughout the film that it had a distaste for the fan-wank that had built up over the years around the original film. In contrast to the latest Star Wars (which, for the record, I quite enjoyed overall), 2049 waits til the final act to even get to Deckard, and pretty swiftly establishes that it holds no real nostalgia for him. His car, his gun, all are seen then discarded.
It’s not a clean break by any means, but it didn’t feel like it lingered on Deckard any longer than made sense for this story. And that’s the key, really, that 2049 was content to be ‘this story’ and not ‘this universe’.
I was talking to a friend after the film about how the major message of this movie seemed to be less “what separates us from them” but “why does it matter” and I find that refreshing. It’s not exactly original, at this point (Her, Ex Machina, Nier: Automata, Binary Domain, among others, have tackled this) but it’s a much more interesting question than “who’s a robot”. Which, incidentally, is what most of the shitty fan-wank around the original turned into. That, and uncritical engagement with the cyberpunk aesthetic, I guess.
This film was preceded by a trailer for Ready Player One, a film I could not despise more if I tried. Luckily, 2049 is not that movie. Even though it’s drawing from basically the same source material, it does what Ready doesn’t, which is to say it understands the spirit of the material not just the material.
A good Blade Runner doesn’t just tick the boxes of replicant, runner, guns, cyberpunk — it’s weird and long and has slow ponderous dialogues about the meaning of life or whatever. And 2049 has those things.
Ryan Gosling is a good actor and he plays this character well. I was a huge skeptic of many aspects of this movie and Gosling was one of them, but he delivered.
As far as actors go, really pretty much everyone was good. The film is mostly Gosling and Harrison Ford surrounded by a myriad of very talented female actors playing characters that all die. So. I mean. It’s one of those.
The music is incredible. I’m not sure what else to say here but it needs to be said: the music is fucking incredible.
And not just the music itself, but the way sound is used. Scenes are elevated to tension by just the music alone, or cut to silence at just the right moments. It’s incredibly well-done.
I really liked Gosling’s hologram girlfriend. Not just because I, as a dude watching this movie, am meant to like her as a character, but also because I think she fulfilled a very good symbolic role to Gosling’s replicant detective.
The original 80s Blade Runner was a lot about the relationship between (human) Deckard and (replicant) Rachael. Specifically, the ways that they see each other as different species of being but similar enough to fall for one another.
K (Gosling) and Joi have a similar relationship, in that K’s replicant body is ‘real’ in a way that Joi’s hologram form is not. They even do the thing from Her where they get a surrogate to fuck (also, for the record, kind of weird from an objectification standpoint) but unlike Her they actually do it. Which I guess is probably symbolic of the way that K views ‘real’ things, but it also just felt exceedingly weird given his behavior earlier in the film.
Then again, at that point he’s basically assuming he’s dead in 48 hours so maybe it’s more of a last chance thing. Whatever the reasoning, the visuals were, again, stunning (Denis… Denis Villenueve… you sure know how to frame a shot).
Is this a new cyberpunk epic? Well, no. I mean, honestly, the first one isn’t really either. It’s way more focused than I think its pedigree has let on after the fact. The original Blade Runner is an extremely weird film and most of the stuff that’s taken inspiration from it has taken inspiration mostly from the less-weird parts.
Part of the reason I liked the game OBSERVER that came out recently is that it took some of the things that were more ‘weird’ from Blade Runner as well as the stuff that everyone takes from it. It’s not just neon and cybercops, it’s also disgusting body horror and slums and disgusting places to live. OBSERVER got this.
2049, I think, also gets this, and for that alone exceeded my expectations. Early trailers gave off the feeling that it was going to be too clean, too organized, too actiony. Luckily, it’s not, and thank god, because at a 2 hour 44 minute runtime I don’t think I could handle all action that long.
It’s lingering, it’s slow almost to the point of frustration, and it’s certainly not the most progressive work I’ve ever seen. So in that sense, it’s a pretty good Blade Runner movie.