This is a review I wrote on Letterboxd shortly after I saw this movie.
I think with all the rebooting of old titles that purposely have no clue what made their namesakes resonate it’s important to look at the details. Most of the recent reboots like Star Trek and Star Wars are pretty obviously heartless fan-films with a franchise superficially applied. At best it’s unbelievably sloppy, but I don’t think so much money could be spent on those productions without a real plan, so then what is the plan? Is gutting these beloved franchises and turning all their concepts upside-down part of the plan? I think it’s pretty obvious that yes, that is the point. This train of thought is another essay, or collection of essays.
Blade Runner 2049 did a lot of things right, and so it’s a good movie to dig into. After peeling it apart one may find it easier to see how other things are often turned upside-down.
Not the worst filmmaking endeavor. If people think Children of Men is anything worthwhile then such ones would love both Blade Runners, I’d imagine. This continuation of the Blade Runner story is refreshing in an environment of reboots, remakes, and stories that were story-boarded years ago. The story is thin, but only because one is given so much time consider it, which is just fine by me but in this case they have nearly taken all the mystery out of the narrative. By the final part of the film the audience is so fully informed* that it becomes more about how successful the protagonist will be. In making explicit so much, we also see that this film has a unsurprising agenda: to make the first film a thing of legend.
[8/26/2020- *Even that is opposite to what made Blade Runner unique. We never really knew everything, there was always a bit of mystery. The sequel effectively overwrote all of that. The sequel had no mystery by the time we hit the end.]
Indeed this film is saturated with nothing less than devotion and awe for the original. Remember how beautiful all the scenes in the Tyrell building were? Having the Tyrell/Wallace scenes all pretty with yellow light and moody dynamic lighting can be fun, but of course when that happened in the first film it was because the sun was setting or the room had actual gold in it, and therefore the aesthetics were a logical outcome of the world’s happenings – in the new one it was all clearly just there to look pretty without regard to in-world logic or meaning.
Well, you can also answer back that the gold light and sets were there to express the haughtiness of Wallace, who like Tyrell had a bit of a god-complex. This can provide the in-world explanation -that Wallace chose to light their building through empty aquariums in odd places because he knew it would mesmerize, confuse, and impress all who entered. Given that the average educated mind isn’t trained to challenge ridiculousness, this as a decision on Wallace’s part demonstrates how humans of this age are already at the point of bowing to impressive nonsense without thinking deeply first. [2020 – This is doing far too much internal thinking for the film, there is no evidence that Wallace was so motivated. Thus, I go back to my thought that all those pretty shimmering golden lights was just a superficial reference to Blade Runner.]
This film is the among the bleakest dystopias set before me. The cities in this world are unlivable and are a horror all their own. The San Diego branch garbage dump revealing text was a laugh for me, but I really didn’t enjoy being there, having to look upon it for so long. Of course as mentioned I don’t think anyone would enjoy much in this world. Who lives in these cities? There was more hustle and bustle in the first one, the city was lived in. But in this one we have a larger city, see more outside LA, talk to more individuals but never see a real crowd. It’s like some inane joke, they keep building larger and larger structures but for nobody. Again, this film strains logic for me.
The sex is illogical too. I kept waiting for her to properly calibrate that hologram/prostitute interface. Seems like they skipped that part and just went right into physical contact which certainly didn’t look or seem like part of the calibration process to me. Be that as it may, I found the idea depicted exceedingly vile. Certainly such an on-the-nose depiction of someone being used for just their body may rub many the wrong way. You can suggest that Ryan Gosling and the hologram lady were pleased, but the film doesn’t give me that feeling. The Hologram lady arguably was the most satisfied but she’s the least human of the three°! The audience gets nothing more than a tease, which can be said to help us to feel the participants lack of satisfaction, and that’s how I took it. The closer you are to human the less you want a part of this. This is robot sex for robots.
[2020- °This supports my notion that the whole point of this film is to humanize robots while dehumanizing real people.]
Which of course brings us to one of the central story elements, that the possibly of Replicant procreation might help free our protagonist’s people from their servitude. First, if you watched this film you can see plainly that much of the top level people were indeed replicants themselves. So I guess we have a simple allegory for today’s oppression, (much like the daughter hiding in plain sight). Were there any humans at all? Second, the hope this film places before the audience is that the replicants may soon be reproducing and so be happy that they will soon be more self-deterministic. But as a human -something I’m constantly aware of- I was feeling a bit forgotten and left for dead.
A lot of time is spent experiencing this machine world, we even visit the dump and a protein farm, and there’s a fight on the shore waves crashing constantly- after nothing but buildings and desolation that was a refreshing bit of nature. Nature is a nonplayer in every scene but that one. There is no struggle against the elements. Nature isn’t fighting for her turf. We get the overhead view of that giant wall blocking the ocean more than once. So I had it in my head that nature was pretty much nullified and tamed by the constructions of this society. So that ocean shore scene really stood out. Water joined us again at the end when the snow was falling. I took this as subtle reminder that nature is still doing her thing, even if our protagonists hardly notice it. But such subtleties is not what this new Blade Runner is about. The snow is just there for looks. As someone who tries to take the presence of what’s onscreen as meaningful symbols to read, I was let down by the end. Rather than the dour vertical shot looking down on Gosling dying, the audience should have, or I’ll double-down and say _needed_ a POV of his view – which was just a sky with snow falling down. That’s the moment of clarity and beauty that a film full of trash, tubes and tech needed. To remind us to look up and see something of nature. Her beauty uncompromised and that part of her still is untouched by human meddling. Though such an ending would undermine the whole reason they made this movie so I’m not surprised.
My ending clashes with the hope offered by the story: The inevitable replicant uprising, as they learn to procreate. Which is the opposite of hope for humans so I have to assume this is a movie for borg babies, raised on smartphones and the internet. Early on during the film I actually laughed out loud a lot at how much 2049 seemed to be fellating itself and the 1982 film. I felt maybe it could still earn those moments back (since I really do enjoy the first one), but for me it didn’t end up earning them as it just wallowed in its self-destruction for a lost cause.
[2020 -It may not seem like a lost cause now but that’s just the propaganda talking, the replicant borg babies can never win Nature won’t allow it.
Ultimately 2049 fails because it’s message is just the opposite of the first one. In the first Blade Runner we felt for the replicants Decker was hunting because we came to see them as being far more human than expected. They have deep emotional lives and are able to to form connections with people and each other. That’s one of the points of the first film, that they are more human than the human hunting them. But in this sequel we are shown robots who will continue to thrive but how? It seems to me mostly in a physical sense. We are shown that their emotional lives are based on known manufactured lies, so their interpersonal relations are doomed, but somehow we are to assume that these same lies will connect them as a group that can come together and over-throw their creators?
That’s the new basic pattern that I see emerging. The more you think about the newer stuff the less it holds up, but the old stuff still has some interesting concepts and connections to discuss.]