Review: Blade Runner 2049

Big spoilers ok? There you have been warned.

Blade Runner 2049 is like ice cream. It’s good but unnecessary. I happily lived without a second helping of BR, but since it was offered, I took it up. However, if I had been unfamiliar with ice cream, this way of presenting it would have not been such an attractive proposition.

But since I like the taste, I like the film enough. I understand what it’s about, and it fulfills most of my expectations as it is fairly faithful to my previous experiences of it. Of course these days they want to fancy up desserts a bit and this second rendition of Blade Runner does the same. The score and the silences, the lingering camera work, the slow pace, the sets, old cast members, plastic see through rain coats, the perspectives, the Pris look-alike, IMPORTANT ANIMAL SYMBOLISM, arcane technological details, repetitive advertising placements, and the gaps between the moments of action felt true to the original aesthetic, but more indulgent. Like ice cream with sprinkles, chocolate, sauce, and fruit.  Thus, the world building is haunting and dramatic, though perhaps without the darkness of the original film’s palette.

If you like, all of the above means it is more Blade Runner than Blade Runner, with the awesome speeches in the rain replaced by quiet moments in snow. Which again, is no help to anyone new to the story. Likewise the fact that familiar faces are back. Why would you care? If you care because Harrison Ford, straight up the advertising leads you to the conclusion that Ford *is* the film. This is a lie. This is an epic saga the length of forever, and Ford’s role, while useful, and just to the left of central, is not a large proportion of the story, which is about how one replicant comes to discover his humanity – ish.

So second chorus, same as the first, with less Deckard, and similar themes, plus new ones.

Speaking about Ford and sagas, in a way this film is Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but with the entire plot based around an ex-stormtrooper (another guy with a number for a name) who becomes Finn (ie real) when he changes sides. Ok, BR is totally the Force Awakens, including with a side helping origin myth about a Chosen Child (Last Special Jedi Rey). Somehow, yet again, the focus of yet another film manages to be the heroic, self-sacrificing men, while the Special Women who are meant to be central are dead, or so removed from view they are literally cut off from the (real) world and most of the action. Seriously, if this is 2049, what happened to women?

A Harry Clarke illustration for Edgar Allan Poe, but also Important Horse Symbolism.

Having said all that Officer K’s awakening is interesting. He goes from mechanical acceptance of his lot to challenging everything about who he is and what he is for. Nice, a man finds his place in the world film, mainly through being forced to, by women.

K’s relationship with women offers a way to understand how he sees himself and his place. To me, this had the potential to be intriguing, but it turned out to be IMMENSELY frustrating. It is a pity that while this world is peopled with women, some in positions of authority, almost all of them get their comeuppance. How very dare they, this film seems to say. Then again, much of their agency in this plot revolves around how they are useful or valuable to men, or how they relate to motherhood. Great. Sigh.

This is something to think about in a film about identity, featuring a god like man who kills the women he creates because they can’t give birth and thus meet his corporation’s off world demand for slaves. Market forces are so uplifting eh?

In Blade Runner 2049 women & fake women are sinners, prostitutes or saints. Or dead.

Despite the obviously tacky and exploitative ways in which the film treats her, I liked K’s ‘girlfriend’ Joi. Unlike all of the other (at times naked) representations of women, she has a purpose beyond decor. She demonstrates K’s ‘unreality’ through being less real than he is, even to the point that her name for him is what her software calls all potential customers . Yet for all of her limitations she also gets to be the emotional centre for K when he couldn’t have one (I guess yay for holographic electric women feels). But at least she cared and could emote. K’s final encounter with her even if it is the advertising version, releases him.  Yes, she seems to indicate, he is real enough, even if it is only the echo of a ghost in a broken machine saying it.

Maybe the Magic Child Chosen One will save the replicants, but not in this film.

Then again, for all the dystopian whiz bangery, the plot is based on the Jesus story, including with visual imagery of a cross in the shape of the (dead) tree, sacrifices, constant talk of ‘angels’ and wise people in the know. A miraculous child is born to a unique mother, and forces greater than the child are tracking its family down. Thus, the Important Child learns to survive with a distant father and special, but absent mother. Somewhere in there, Officer K is transformed from Special K (see what I did there) to slightly less Special K as a John the Baptist figure. And Robin Wright’s Lt Joshi becomes a Pharaoh/Herod character all about killing a Magic Kid. Look,  I’m not sure if all this is meant to be sub-text, but at least to me, it wasn’t subtle. And they kept talking about a child, but the child is actually 28. They didn’t even bother to make the kid 33.

At the risk of giving more away it is also the classic Dead Mother Plot (TM), which almost every beginning creative writer tackles (including me, and all my fellow newbie writing class colleagues back in the day). According to everyone in this film, as is tradition, no other woman stacks up, and is thus murdered. Yet another sigh.

Good reviews led me to seeing the film, as well as the mini-sodes which work as a bridge between understanding what is happening between the first film and the second one.  Yet aspects of the plot felt underdone: the potential for a replicant uprising, following, you guessed it, a Chosen One. However, all this seemed like an overture to a bigger thing in the next film…which given the box office probably won’t happen.

Anyway, I appreciate K’s arc, I like what the plot does to him, a bit because I’m not really a fan of Ryan Gosling, nor for that matter Jared Leto, they seem very lauded for reasons I can’t fathom. Although, in hindsight,  the denouement for all of them, including K, is kinda obvious. If BR 2049 is Force Awakens, it is also a whodunit locked room mystery with a limited cast: it was always going to be the Professor with a candlestick in the parlour. If/when you see the film you’ll understand what I’m saying.

And yet, remember I said this was ice cream? It’s still good, even if not good for you. If you like the comfort of something familiar that features augmented production values try the new Blade Runner 2049.


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