Blade Runner 2049


RYAN GOSLING as K in Alcon Entertainment’s action thriller “BLADE RUNNER 2049,” a Warner Bros. Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment release, domestic distribution by Warner Bros. Pictures and international distribution by Sony Pictures.

This review contains spoilers, as do most reviews or op-eds of any intellectual value for that matter.

Roger Ebert described PEARL HARBOR as, “a two hour movie squeezed into three hours.”  That is precisely how Denis Villeneuve’s BLADE RUNNER 2049 plays.  While the 163-minute sequel to Ridley Scott’s rather loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, succeeds in more complex world building, it doesn’t achieve a depth of story that couldn’t have been told in half the running time.

In a future where synthetically-engineered humans called Replicants were banned and purged from Earth, a police unit of so-called Blade Runners is tasked with hunting down and “retiring” them.  K (Ryan Gosling) is assigned to this unit.

While pursuing one, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista featured too briefly in a role that showcases a real talent for subtle acting), K unearths a corpse of particular novelty, the discovery of which sets off his boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), and attracts intense interest from Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the blind, eccentric founder of Wallace Corporation, which acquired the assets of Tyrell Corporation.  Inventors of the replicants, Tyrell Corp fell into bankruptcy after the death of Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), a more believable corporate profiteer who saw himself as more engineer than demigod.  Real villains never see themselves as the villain.

Wallace sends a lieutenant of his own, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), to follow K and acquire the corpse.  I feel like Hoeks has something to say, but it’s muddled by the writers’ tendency to relegate her to glowering looks and lots of leather-clad Bad Girl/Fighting Fuck Toy high kicks.  In the end, she’s still a servant, just like Joshi, but Villeneuve and writer Hampton Fancher have little, if anything, to say about it.

In spite of daily “baseline resets”, a mantra designed to clear the mind of emotional disturbances (think of the Mentats in DUNE), K sets upon a journey to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the old-school Blade Runner who supposedly holds the key to this mystery.  His partner in this journey is… a sexbot named Joi (Ana de Armas).  And this is where the problems begin.

Betwixt a technocratic allegory to Ancient Egypt and the Let’s Go Find Harrison Ford plot, there’s so much dead space.   It isn’t used, however, to establish any sort of social commentary about the enslavement of females save for a couple tears shed by Luv.

See how meticulously the scene compositions of BLADE RUNNER 2049 are crafted:  Inside the catacombs and chambers of what appear to be the leftover Ziggurats of the defunct Tyrell Corp., golden light dances and follows Luv and Niander, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere.  Roger Deakins, who famously commented that films today tend to be overlit, gorgeously captures the fantastic textures of character actors like Bautista with barely anything but a rim light curling around his cheek.  Gosling’s face, bruised and beaten, the cobalt light turns the blood and dirt black—similar to the look of a Day-for-Night scene in MAD MAX FURY ROAD.  But this too is child’s play for Deakins.  Recall the glowing lanterns in SKYFALL.

Especially at a time when geek and film culture is beset by scandal after scandal, one would hope that filmmakers take as conscientious an approach to character and story design as the lighting and cinematography.  Gosling’s K evokes a familiar everyman, whose troubles are assuaged by his holographic sexbot.  That the entirety of her personality can be contained on a device the size of an Amazon Fire stick says as much about technological advancement as it does about female disenfranchisement.  But to the average viewer this will merely come off as a plot convenience.  There’s no deeper commentary on K’s dependency on a mindlessly-devoted, sexy female companion to define and enrich his humanity.

Let’s count:  The Macguffin is a dead woman.  The protagonist has a generic sexbot.  The mustache-twirling villain has a generic Fighting Fuck Toy, and a penchant for unnecessarily murdering his disposable women.  Mackenzie Davis (HALT AND CATCH FIRE) is completely wasted as a hooker.  The police Lieutenant seems to be written as a man cast as a woman—where either they have femininity or they are leaders, but can’t have both.  If you marvel at the casting but not the story, consider that all the casting directors are women and the creative team all men.

Even with its many locales in and around a future Los Angeles, the film is surprisingly shallow on diversity unlike its predecessor.  As I noted in my review of Ridley Scott’s original BLADE RUNNER, street scenes show us a hodgepodge of races, many speaking a sort of hybrid language similar to Esperanto.  Rain-soaked streets and alleyways are bustling with people like Osaka at night.

Yes, BLADE RUNNER 2049 alludes to environmental chaos sown by overpopulation, but are we to believe it only wiped out all the nonwhite people?

Intelligent storytelling would have more deeply examined the nature of the differences between male and female enslavement, rather than conveying them nakedly (literally in one case).  On message boards and in discussions about Hans Zimmer’s rushed score replacing Jóhann Jóhannsson’s, many readers remain transfixed on Vangelis’ vaunted accompaniment to Rutger Hauer’s brilliant Tears in Rain soliloquy.  One of the most iconic scenes in science fiction, and reportedly improvised on set by Hauer himself, it shows a male slave resigning to his fate, almost naked, clutching a dove.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.  Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.  I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.  All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…

Regard that image for a moment.  Think about its femininity, its vulnerability, its defiant transcendence.  Then watch the mindlessly physical work of the male slaves in this film from beginning to violent end—its slapdash coda constructed as afterthought.

In the 35 years since BLADE RUNNER opened, I can think of one instance alone that reminds me of this scene.  In Spielberg’s massively underrated film, A.I: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE—arguably his masterpiece—Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), when taken away by police, exclaims, “I AM.  I was!”  Just shy of utter brilliance, the scene plays in the safe space of heteronormativity rather than taking a more subversive route, yet Steven Spielberg remains one of the few, if only, directors who gave the sexbot the humanity the protagonist couldn’t find.


  • Gerry Delonzo

    “In the end, she’s still a servant, just like Joshi, but Villeneuve and writer Hampton Fancher have little, if anything, to say about it.”

    I love how the reviewer feels the need to directly point out how the women are “servants”, while not mentioning the male characters, especially K, who are in the same boat. This speaks to someone letting ideology essentially decide their view of the film. That is the mark of a poor reviewer.

    • “while not mentioning the male characters… That is the mark of a poor reviewer.”… I did. Second to last paragraph. Does that make you a poor reader?

  • HelmsAlee

    Totally agree with so much of what you write. Especially…
    “…one would hope that filmmakers take as conscientious an approach to character and story design as the lighting and cinematography” Bingo.
    And the 1982 flick was so much more female-friendly. Astonishing, since then, how far H’wood has gone in the wrong direction.
    ‘Blade Runner’ was a game-changer. ‘2049’ is a beautiful yet sadly hollow film that’s trying to ride on the coattails of the original. Seems Hollywood no longer likes taking chances. Or they haven’t the imagination to do so.

  • Walking Fool

    Movie was horribly boring and would have been a higher movie at 90 minutes long.

  • pterodactyl

    The film should have been about the last few robots with extra beauty or strength being hunted down in the form of a thriller (ie like the first film), and about robots trying their best to imitate humans and nearly getting there, but instead this was one of those plots that you get in women’s films about an orphan searching for its parents, the type where the babies are switched at birth and the mother tracks them down (yawn).

    There was no plot tension at any point, except in the opening sequence. Just landing the craft somewhere, having a few fights, and flying off again. So when the hero met Harrison Ford, the first thing they did was have one of those long fights, then immediately and with no change of expression, just sat down for a friendly drink after the fight.

    And it had the old worn out Doctor Who plot where an underground army of slaves is plotting rebellion, which added nothing to the film except lots of sad people standing around waiting for their leader. Contrast this where in the first film where the people had submitted to the authorities so the plot was simpler and better without this extra ‘rebellion’ theme, which made the robots look quite strong and numerous, and was therefore just one army against another, as in Planet of the Apes. It should have been individuals within the system, (as in the first film), not two groups heading towards rebellion and war.

    To be honest I would have enjoyed just seeing the first film again rather than this one.

    I was extremely disappointed. They should have stuck to the themes of the first film.

    I am completely unable to comprehend why this film got such high audience reviews on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’.

    • I contribute to the RT score and I’m baffled myself, except to say that nostalgia is a hell of a drug.

      • pterodactyl

        Rubin – that is how I found your review here by looking in Rotten Tomatoes for the few negative reviews after being puzzled by the positive audience reaction, then clicking on ‘full review’.

        Your comment: “one would hope that filmmakers take as conscientious an approach to character and story design as the lighting and cinematography” – this comment summarises the film and what is good and poor about it, and the sound and vision aspects were excellent and must have been enough to make most of the audience satisfied as you say for nostalgia reasons.

    • Shawn EH

      It’s very pretty. It’s slow enough to imply it must be about something. Only, no.

  • TBH

    Joi is not a sexbot. Not a robot. She’s a projected hologram. She’s the opposite. This is where you really miss it. She’s a hologram and is a program for emotional comfort, something K feels a strong need for. Her visual appeal is important but not overtly sexual for his purposes. He really wants to touch her but can’t. After he gives her the anniversary gift then get a closer approximation but it is disappointing when they feign an embrace on the deck in the rain. This is why Joi brings in Mariette, who has her own motives. A pleasure replicant (like Marietta or Triss in the original) is far beyond his modest means if he had the urge. We get no glimpse of K’s Joi (just software) sexualized for him as a customer (not heavily made up, responds to his needs not his whims) as opposed to her other versions marketed with exaggerated sexuality in the ads, flattering, naked, or heavily made up. It’s the building high nude ad calling him Joe so impersonally (not his own customized product) he sees walking home that pushes him to take action just before he pulls of the bandage and goes after Deckard.

    • Shawn EH

      Join is the most sympathetic character on the film. Which is tragic that she’s not even solid. She’s like a ghost, another dead thing in a film full of them.

  • TBH

    Criticism of being all white.

    – Freysa is clearly middle eastern / persian. After checking her bio, the actress is from Israel.
    – Bautista is half Fillipino
    – Edward James Olmos is Mexican and depicted ethnically in both the original and 2049.
    – the orphanage administrator Mr. Cotton is black
    – The cop in the autoposy scene is black – Wood Harris. I suspect he may have been in scenes that got cut.
    – The wood horse Dr. “I’m the captain now” is black
    – one of the 3 hookers is black
    – BONUS -in the underground scene at the end with Freysa, the rebels are diverse in ethnicity and gender.

    That’s 7 characters with lines in the film. There are more as background. 5 of those 7 have a significant number of lines or are of key importance to the plot. The other key characters with significant lines or key to the plot contemporarily are white. There are 8. 8 compared to 5. I think you are looking for something not there. There are two significant non-white characters in the original. Olmos and the eye engineer. Can you name others?

    • None of the characters you mention are deeply explored. The first thing I stated about Bautista is that his character is wasted. I said the same thing about Luv, Joshi and even Mackenzie Davis’ character, Mariette…

  • 35 years have passed since BLADE RUNNER. I haven’t changed my opinion… there’s a link to it in the review above.

    • Newfirelock

      As I wrote in my comment. Thanks for the confirmation.

      • Your premise was that critics changed their minds. The critics who praise it today aren’t, generally, the ones who panned it then… many of them weren’t around in 1982.

  • Shawn EH

    I worship the original, and did from the start . This imitation is very pale fire.

  • So there I was in the theaters at Columbia Mall in Grand Forks. Watching these two gorgeously lit models streak across this screen. Soon I’d be watching a real life Statler and Waldorf type exchange between a couple of half-drunk Chicagoans on some PBS show called Sneak Preview. My fate was sealed.

    It was that damned Dianoga’s eyeball, I tell you.

    P.S. Kael never liked BLADE RUNNER. But she loved that little blue and white garbage can.

    • Newfirelock

      Lol! Eyeball to eyeball, that was and is the first image and the point of the whole thing. Voigt-comp, the ultimate test of who is human and who is not. Technology, testing, and can the test be fool proof, or are we just fooling ourselves into believing that our testing really proves anything? Human or AI? What will be the ultimate difference, how will we tell the difference, and will it even matter when the replicants and AI decide not to take it anymore and then take their place on the evolutionary ladder. Next up, replicant revolution, AI liberation, and the subservience of the human genome to a future where the world is reborn, and love, the one ingredient that cannot be altered or done away with, is still at the heart of existence.

  • Mortimer

    Newfirelock, when you will stop to post the same words on any site with unfavorable reviews ? You aren’t very much creative Villeneuve fanboy, right ?