Review: Blade Runner 2049

If you’re a sci-fi fan, saying you don’t like Blade Runner is a bit like being a geologist who believes the earth is flat. But nevertheless, I’m not a big fan of Blade Runner. Maybe it’s because there are so many different cuts. Maybe it’s because all the female characters are essentially sex toys. Or maybe I just don’t get it. I dutifully re- watched it (two different cuts!) to prep for the sequel and I still find the misogyny and inconsistencies too irritating to really enjoy it. But I’m headed to the sequel because I love Denis Villeneuve’s work, and the cast here is amazing. If nothing else, it should be beautiful to watch.

The opening of the film sets the scene: it is thirty years since the events of the previous movie. The Tyrell Corporation which made the original replicants went bust, its pieces bought up by a new company that eventually managed to create replicants with limits on their free will (which I guess means they got rid of those unfortunate homicidal tendencies, huh?). We later learn of an event called “The Blackout” in which all power was lost for several days and electronic records, including bank accounts, were wiped out. This, too, is history as Blade Runner 2049 begins.

The plot centres on Ryan Gosling’s character, K, a replicant who hunts down other replicants. He is sent after one – played by Dave Bautista – and what he discovers there is the beginning of the mystery that occupies the rest of the film. A mystery that ties in to several loose threads in the original.

And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot because this really is a film best seen without spoilers. So much so that I’m not sure I want to see it again, at least not for a while. (I admit, usually I prefer to be a little spoiled going in. Unless I’m really sure I will like a film, I want to know as much as possible first. But this time I’m glad I trusted the reviewers.)

So what can I say? First, it does a great job of replicating (forgive me, but it’s the right word) both the look and tone of the original. Post-production effects have come on a lot since then and the sequel is more polished, and has the budget to build a larger world, but it’s very much the same world.

Second, It’s also an intelligent movie, posing questions about the nature of humanity, about free will and emotional manipulation.

Third, it’s really beautiful. I expected that from a Denis Villeneuve film, but he has outdone himself here. The Las Vegas scenes in particular, showing a destroyed city reclaimed by the desert, are spectacular.

Fourth, it’s sexist as hell. None of the female characters have any agency; the most fleshed out female character is, literally, a sex toy. Fifth, and not unrelated, it has a serious diversity problem. The only women of colour are prostitutes, men of colour are criminals. Which is a real pity because those issues would have been so easy to fix and aside from them and one other nitpick the film is darn-near perfect.

Sixth, it is really long. The pacing is good and it doesn’t drag. I think it’s as long as it needed to be. But it really is long.

It’s Ryan Gosling’s movie, but the supporting cast is also really good. Ana de Armas is amazing as Joi, the holographic girlfriend, as is Sylvia Hoeks as Luv – and two fantastic performances from these women (and Robin Wright, too) make the underlying misogyny all the more disappointing. Dave Bautista was great. Harrison Ford phones it in, but he can get away with it.

Oh, that other nitpick? See, there  are scenes at the Wallace Corporation where the replicants are made. Wallace (Jared Leto) is blind. So why the hell is his living room literally an indoor island. I mean, if I were blind, I wouldn’t wander around places where I might drown! How insane is that? The setting is gorgeous, but again, the man is blind. Why does he care what it looks like?

Fans of the original will not be disappointed. As a non-fan, I enjoyed it, but it could have been better.

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