Aka the movie I had no intention of watching until two reviews, one in English
and one in German
, swayed me. Mostly by the promise that it does manage to be both a good movie and a great homage while being its own thing, that most tricky of balances for sequels.
Now Blade Runner
is one of my all time favourite movies, and when I heard there was to be a sequel, my immediate thought was "do not want", and until I read those reviews, I had not departed from it. Said reviews, however, were glowing enough for me to say, what the hell, let's watch it, I'll always have the original anyway. (In both director's cut and 80s voice over version. *g*)
So, did it live up to said reviews? Yes and no and yes and no and yes and no... First of all, it certainly lived up to the cinematography praise. Denis Villeneuve, of whom I had last seen Arrival
, riffed on the famous iconic original, and
came up with new images both gorgeous and disturbing as well. Importantly, he also took his time instead of going for something fast paced. This is a plus in my book. One reason why Blade Runner
was a flop back in the day was that a great part of the audience seems to have expected something Star Wars
like, an action movie, not least because of Harrison Ford, then at the height of his Han Solo fame. And if Blade Runner
was regarded as slow back then, you can imagine what newbies think now. But Villeneuve still chose to give his film breathing room, let events proceed in that dream/nightmarish, slow way, the very rare occasional physical confrontation excluded. Hans Zimmer's soundtrack is Vangelis ventriquolism, so in terms of looks and sounds, we're good. Not to mention that the way the movie styles the actors does a creative remix thing in terms of the roles they play, i.e. the person they echo in looks is not necessarily the role they have in the new narrative. This helps providing the sense that you're in the same universe but at a different point in the symphony where the themes are played in a new variation, so to speak.
Content-wise, we get to why I have a mixed response to this movie. On the one hand, it tries to hit similar emotional beats without providing a mere copy. For example: the director's cut of Blade Runner
, though not the original first cinematic release of Blade Runner
, introduces ambiguity about whether or not Deckard himself is a Replicant (without being aware). (I can never make up my mind whether I prefer Deckard as human or as an unaware Replicant, but I'm happy to report the new movie doesn't settle this eternal question, either, but keeps the ambiguity.) On the other hand, Ryan Gosling's character, K, is introduced as a Replicant in his very first scene, which is why I don't consider it a spoiler. There is an ambiguity waiting for him to discover as well, but not about whether or not he's a Replicant. (On the other hand, the scriptwriter(s) is/are definitely fond of Kafka jokes, because when K later in the movie is given a name, it's Joe.) The questions of what makes a person a person, the question of memories and what they mean, they're all here as well.
But. And there's a massive but for me. The oddest aspect this movie had was the way its gender politics worked, or didn't. On the one hand, you had several characters as female who back in the 80s probably would have been cast with male actors - for example, K's boss, the harsh and weary LAPD Captain (Robin Wright!), the underground leader of the Replicants, the memory designer (who, like the original movie's J.F. Sebastian - who, remember, designed parts like eyes for the Replicants - , has a life-endangering medical condition. On the other, the design of this particular dystopia does not reflect this at all. For starters, the advertising (famously a big part of the Blade Runner look) seems to be geared towards straight men. (No gay men or women of any persuasion are paying for anything?) Then there's the central m/f relationship. Now the original Blade Runner
had two of those: Deckard and Rachel, Pris and Roy. I don't think I'm very far off when stating that the one between the two Replicants, Roy and Pris, was the one that came across as both being between equals and as the more passionate of the two. (Which fit with the movie's attitude towards the Replicants.) Blade Runner 2049
, otoh, has the one between K and Joi, a non-physical AI designed as a mass product for those who can't afford Replicants. (Basically, Joi is a hologram capable of adapting.) And while there is pathos there - they're both artificial beings designed as slaves, Joi as a simpler form, who still regard their emotions for each other as real - there's also a strict hierarchy which is never transcended. (Joi is designed to flicker from housewife to erotic fantasy to whatever male wish fulfillment her user wants to have, with him being her entire purpose. While Pris was designed as a "pleasure model" for off world colonists as well, while Roy was designed as a combat model, Blade Runner
never gives you the impression they being together was anything but mutual choice, or that Roy is who Pris' entire existence depends on, or her prime motivation in life. (Like the other Replicants in the original movie, she wants more life than the four years the Tyrell Cooperation was given them.)
But okay, let's argue that besides the K/Joi relationship, the one actually proves K to be more than what he was created to be is ( spoilery )
. That still leaves the new movie having almost all of its characters declaring the one key element that separates Replicants from humanity, the one that, if/when it's gained, will ensure the revolution, is ( a plot twist straight of a tv show I've watched in the last decade )
Not unrelated, two negative observations about the two villains of the movie: one is Wallace, our new Tyrell. Only this
movie apparantly doesn't trust its audience to get that rich industrialists benefiting from slave work who confuse themselves with God are the bad guys. No, to prove his villainy, Wallace is introduced via a scene in which ( something sledgehammery happens )
Then there's Luv, his replicant henchwoman. ( Spoilery remarks about Luv follow. )
Retro gender politics aside, I think what may come down to is: Blade Runner
was courageous in terms of its characters in the way this new movie isn't. The Replicants in Blade Runner
get audience sympathy not because the audience is pushed towards it. They're introduced as the antagonists, and the movie trusts its audience to get that their situation is massively unfair while never downplaying that they're also lethally dangerous, and at least on one occasion even towards someone who means them well. The final sequence reverses every action movie cliché in the book in terms of how hero/antagonist confrontations are supposed to go. Blade Runner 2049
, otoh, is very clear on who is good and who is bad, whom to sympathize with and whom to despise, and doesn't budge from that. Our protagonist has a learning arc, but the movie is careful not to let him do something non-heroic even before he knows better. ( More spoilers. )
The one character with claims to moral ambiguity, to not being identifyable as either a villain or a hero, in the new movie is Robin Wright's police captain, and all her scenes with K are excellent. Not coincidentally, she's also the character who owes the least to the original movie. (Deckard's boss was simply an evil racist, and we only see him twice.) The end of her plotline, though, is predictable.
After all those nitpicks, though, I have to return to the powerful cinematography. Dystopian Calfornia, without any natural life left. Las Vegas as an orange-palette fantasy. The rain and water imagery, which in a current movie doesn't just evoke the original but makes a very likely prediction about the climate. Return and change of the small animal figures as signifiers. (Oh, and an E. Olmos cameo, which reminded me that while I hadn't recognized him when starting to watch BSG despite loving Blade Runner
, the first time I rewatched Blade Runner after
having gotten aquainted with Adama on BSG was odd in that regard.)
Oh, and lastly: Treasure Island
quote in unexpected places, and entirely for the win. I'd never have thought of this
character as that
character, and yet, it totalyl works.
So, in conclusion: if you watch it, try to do it in the cinema, because it's one of those movies really worth watching on a big screen, the bigger, the better. If you don't watch it, you're not missing anything that would either enhance or destroy however you feel about the original.