Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

*. It didn’t take long after Blade Runner 2049‘s release for a narrative to start to build around it. The reviews were glowing, with lots of five-star ratings and critical gushings over the rich visuals and complex plot. Box office, however, was disappointing. Immediately the point was raised that Blade Runner, now considered a classic, had done poorly with audiences on its original release as well. Perhaps attention spans had become so attenuated on a steady diet of superhero movies we could no longer appreciate the stateliness of Blade Runner 2049. Perhaps it was too philosophical for the masses.
*. Or perhaps critics and reviewers are now only part of a giant publicity/hype machine and had it wrong.
*. Yes, in both cases. But on balance, I found Blade Runner 2049 a bit of a let down.
*. I’ll start with what I liked. I think in Denis Villeneuve they found the right man for the job. His urban and desert landscapes have always had a kind of desolate, futuristic barrenness about them, and his characters are drawn with the sort of blank lack of affect we can easily associate with the not-fully human. In short, the look and the feel of this movie is just right, and the spiritual-industrial score is a perfect fit as well.

*. The cast works well too. In particular Ryan Gosling is great as the new Deckard and Sylvia Hoeks is his equal as his femme counterpart Luv. It’s so obvious these two are made for each other that it’s sad to see them fight. They should be making super-babies.
*. There’s also one terrific scene, where Joseph K (to give him his full Kafkaesque moniker) engages in a creepy threesome with Joi and the prostitute Mariette. I take it this was meant as an homage to Vertigo and the famous kiss between James Stewart and Kim Novak (who is also playing two characters in one). It’s a magic movie moment, recreated perfectly.
*. Now, on to the rather longer list of what I didn’t like.
*. The movie looks great, but the visuals are too strong, overwhelming the script in many places. At times it almost seems like we’ve gone past Ridley Scott to Terry Gilliam. The Tyrell headquarters in particular makes no sense at all. I guess in an overpopulated future L.A. the spectacular waste of space involved in Wallace’s techno-aquarium is just conspicuous affluence, but it gets to the point where it’s the only thing that even registers. A big scene between Wallace and Deckard should be left to the actors, but instead they’re left on the 17th hole at Sawgrass while inexplicable shadows fall over their faces so it’s hard to really focus on what it is they’re saying.

*. They’re not saying much. Right after Deckard tells Wallace (Jared Leto) that he “knows what’s real,” Wallace figures he’ll get him to spill his guts by tempting him with a duplicate Rachael. Now why would he think Deckard would fall for something so contrived? It’s preposterous. Then to just execute the false Rachael makes no sense except to underline, I suppose, how nasty a piece of work he is. For someone whose main problem is finding a way to produce more replicants Wallace seems to dispose of them in a rather cavalier fashion.
*. I don’t understand Wallace’s plan. He just needs to produce more free labour? That’s it? And if he only wants to breed more replicants, shouldn’t the resistance be working with him?
*. It’s actually a big problem with the script that Wallace isn’t fleshed out more. As far as I can tell he’s just here to play the Tyrell character from the first movie, but he has a far less significant role. Poor Jared Leto is given almost nothing to work with. They could have cut his character out of the film entirely and it wouldn’t have made any difference. We don’t even know what happens to him in the end.
*. But then, I might also ask why they bothered bringing Harrison Ford as Deckard back. He really doesn’t have any function in the plot. There’s a scene at the end where K and Luv are fighting it out in the flooding air car. In one shot you can see him looking on and you imagine Harrison Ford wondering why he even has to be there.
*. Well, the reason he has to be there is because of the really very stupid plot. It’s based on a crazy premise, which is that (spoiler alert!) the original run of replicants can reproduce, and that Rachael actually had Deckard’s baby!
*. Now, really. How is that possible? You mean the Tyrell Corporation didn’t know they gave their “female” replicants fully-functioning wombs? And even assuming this always was part of the plan, or that Rachael was a special prototype, why should their offspring be some kind of human-replicant hybrid, or cyborg-with-a-soul? The whole Golden Child subplot is nonsense, though it taps into the fashionable Singularity thesis of SF movies like Transcendence and Lucy.
*. So Luv just walks right into the LAPD building, takes what she wants out of the morgue, kills an attendant, and walks back out, and that’s it? No security cam footage or anything to tie her to the crime? Come on.

*. Villeneuve’s pacing is a known factor, and I don’t have a problem with it. What I do have a problem with is that despite such a long running time there is much here left undeveloped while much is included that should have been cut. It’s hard not to feel like we’re being set up for a sequel where we’ll find out more about Ana, the replicant underground, and what happened to Wallace (and, for that matter, K).
*. The ultimate point being made is both muddled and depressing. Muddled because we’re still not sure who is human, or if it makes a difference. (The one great line in the script comes when K asks Deckard if Deckard’s dog is real and he responds “I don’t know. Ask him.”)
*. It’s depressing because in so far as the film asks the question “what it means to be human,” the answer seems to be “a lot less than you might think.” Let’s face it, the replicants and AIs in this movie are a lot easier to identify with than the humans. Which, by the way, calls into question their goal to be “more human than human.” Why would they want that?
*. Is there something here that reflects our own sense of unease with our debased and relatively inferior humanity? How well would one of our jaded netizens do in one of these Nabokovian Turing tests? I doubt they’d score as high as K. Meanwhile, K has no interest in dating a real woman and prefers the company of his more sympatico AI Joi. Which is the same sort of rejection our species was served by Scarlett Johansson in Her.
*. There’s been some criticism of the presentation of women in Blade Runner 2049, and to be fair I thought something more might have been done to balance things out. I honestly thought that when Robin Wright’s Lieutenant Joshi showed up at K’s apartment and started helping herself to the booze that she was going to end up ordering him to get in the sack with her. Hey, he is Ryan Gosling. But somehow she is able to resist the temptation.
*. I guess the most depressing part though is that, in this vision of the future, I’m with K. Humanity is just using tech as porn or prostitution anyway, so let’s get rid of all the johns. In R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the original SF robot story, Karel Čapek’s robots stumble at the same hurdle of how to procreate, while humanity, even before their downfall, has largely given up on breeding any new stock. So if K and Luv (or Joi, or Mariette) want to get it on, I wouldn’t want to stand in their way. They might make beautiful movies together. Or a high-def, twenty story-tall sex tape.

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