I saw Blade Runner 2049 last night. I have very complicated feelings about it — I can’t say whether I liked it or not. I mean, I liked it, but it’s not like I can say it was a fun evening, or wheee, let’s get on the roller coaster again, or gosh, I sure wish I could have one of those flying cars. It was also simultaneously unexpected and exactly what I should expect from this movie.
The trailer is not representative. It sets it up as an action movie, when it’s not. Not really.
It is remarkably slow paced. There are fight scenes, but there’s more weight in scenes of Ryan Gosling slowly walking through a bleak dystopian landscape. The Earth is a dead world, and you’re made to feel it. At the same time, there is an ongoing struggle for identity: who is human? What is human? Is that disembodied AI that is present only as a hologram a person? She shows more emotion than many of the “born” humans — Jared Leto plays the head of the evil corporation as a visionary but soulless techno-futurist — and some of the replicants are angry and passionate. Your theory of mind gets a workout in this movie. The key conflicts are all in your head.
Go into the theater in a meditative mood, and you’ll probably enjoy it. Walk in expecting a slam-bang thriller, and you’re going to leave thinking “WTF did I just see?”. Or you’ll fall asleep somewhere in the middle.
Other things of note: the imagery is gorgeously depressing. The world is a high-tech garbage heap where people scavenge like rats in the neon-lit debris. The score is amazing. It’s got echoes of the old Vangelis score, but at times it rises into this industrial howl that has you wondering whether that was music, or a sound effect? It’s effective either way. I noticed that the patriarchy isn’t dead in 2049, either — there are weird landscapes with monumental, crumbling statuary, all of nude women, and roaming the streets are multi-story glowing holograms of, of course, more naked women. I don’t think it passes the Bechdel test, either, unless two women, at least one of whom is a replicant, talking about another replicant, who just happens to be coded male, counts. There’s also a cold-blooded execution of a female replicant for having the wrong eye color, and another newly created replicant, naked, shivering, obedient, and female (of course) is casually stabbed and bleeds to death so Niander Wallace can make a point about the disposability of individuals. I get the point. It’s part of the theme of the movie. But that it is always women who get disposed of so vividly steers it in the direction of misogyny.
Don’t worry, though, lots of men get offed, too — it’s just that they tend to be masked and in uniform or blown away at a distance so you don’t have to think about their humanity. The disparity is distinct enough that I was wondering if it was intentional or just a thoughtless reflection of conventionality. Just like it had me wondering whether the characters were robots pretending to be people, or people who just happened to be robots. It’s the kind of movie where you’ll tie your brain into knots trying to think about what’s going on, and whether you’ll like it or not depends on whether you enjoy that sensation.
Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people don’t like getting their brains twisted up (which is OK, I like a good popcorn movie, too, and this is not a popcorn movie), and the box office is disappointing. I guess it might be a “disaster” or a “flop” if all you count is how many tickets it sold, so the accountants might be unhappy. All I care about is that I bought one ticket and got personally challenged for a few hours by a movie with high ambitions.