A lot of the points I am going to mention cover the same ground as Selenak does here. She explains what I liked and disliked better than I can, in fewer words, so I recommend reading her take on the film, and then coming back to read this for the couple of points where we disagree, and a few more specifically-me points.
- I maintain my feeling of unease about a film about 30 years in the future of what people 40 years ago thought now would look like. Where are the films about what people now think 40 years in the future will look like?
- Denis Villeneuve is a stonkingly good director. He keeps a lot of the visual language from the original, but imbues it with his own feel which is a lot softer than Ridley Scott’s.
- The BBFC rating includes a warning for sexualised nudity. Anyone who finds any of the nudity in this film arousing has issues. I think it was very well done, and thematically works but yes, the director deliberately went for “the commodification of sex and bodies is bad” and it worked.
- The film works best when deals with the flipside of Blade Runner’s “what does it mean to be human”. 2049 asks “what does it mean to not be human?”
Everything below this is a spoiler.
Because the “what is it to be non-human” bits do work, I am more than a little bit miffed that the film’s main answer to the question is reproduction makes you human.
My miffed is four-fold.
1) I like to believe that I am not any less human than my friends who have reproduced.
2) Of all the facets of humanity to choose, the film choose the one we share with animals. Birds do, bees do it, even educated bacteria do it and so on.
3) I am sorry to put this quite so bluntly, but in terms of the replicants wanting their freedom, I’ve never known the ability of their slaves to reproduce ever stopping slavemasters keeping their slaves enslaved.
4) It goes against the message of the first film, where being human is what you do, not what you are. The replicants were more human than the humans, quite literally. Leon and Pris’s willingness to risk what lifespan they had for Zhora and Roy Batty, Pris and Roy Batty’s love for each other and Roy Batty letting Dekker live are all more human than any act of the humans in Blade Runner.
I’m not sure some of the background of the story works with the information from Blade Runner. Do you believe that a technology that had already been banned from Earth after several previous rebellions would suddenly become legalised just because someone said the technology was now safe? I don’t either.
I presume that they let the replicants live out amongst humans to try to tie them in closer to humanity so that they’re less likely to rebel. That’s also reflected in the words that Joe is expected to repeat in his check-ups.
I’m pleased that they decided that Joe wasn’t a human, mostly because you know, Ryan Gosling only has the one facial expression. It also meant that something I thought was a plot hole wasn’t. (I’ve gone with calling him Joe because I am terrible at remembering alphanumerics.)
I guessed that the child was actually the girl because the quickest way of hiding someone is saying that they’re dead. I should have guessed who the child was because such an extreme immunodeficiency suddenly cropping up at 8 is … unlikely. But I didn’t. The DNA section threw up another plot hole though because if Joe has the DNA sequence of the child, it should be easy enough to compare it with his own, and, depending on what DNA segment is recorded, he should have been able to check if the female identity or the male one was the real one.
Joi is probably the most human of the characters, in one of the bits where the film decides humanity is the ghost in the machine. Which is interesting, given that she’s the only unembodied/disembodied character. She’s the one who makes decisions about herself and chooses danger rather than being forced to betray Joe. She’s so lovely. And also opens up a whole vista of philosophical questions. Like is she any less human because she’s disembodied? Why does Joe choose her over another replicant (presuming, of course, that as a Replicant he’s not allowed to date humans – did I mention whole vistas?)? Does Joi choose Joe as a name because it’s the name she’s been programmed to use it as a name or because she likes it? How much of Joi is Joi and how much is the programming, and is that any different for Joe?
My favourite scene is the one where Joe is going back to Los Angeles and sees the advert for Joi. He looks at her and it’s so full of love and sadness, because he knows that a new Joi would not be his Joi, and the ghost is in the electrons. (Okay, so Gosling actually has three expressions, but he’d be more effective if he used the other two in more than one scene each.)
The odd thing is that the weakest scenes in Blade Runner 2049 are the ones that tie it into Blade Runner.
I feel bad about saying that because Harrison Ford is exceptional in his scenes. The silhouette of Rachel was possibly the most terrifying unseen person since Joyce in “Forever” (Buffy, episode 17 season 5). And yet, they slow an already slow film down and add nothing, because trust me, I already hated Wallace. It feels like there were two scripts, one a direct sequel to Blade Runner, and one a more general sci-fi “what measure is a human” one, that they smushed together.
I am not sure what they were trying to do with Wallace, who was so much just Tyrell that D and I just called him not-Tyrell when we were talking about the film. He’s just so unnecessarily horrible that I was hoping that dear, unstable Luv was going to gut him. I am most sad that no-one gutted him.
My uncertainty with Wallace begins with his casting. Given that he’s surrounded by faux-Japanese cultural motifs, why they didn’t just cast a Japanese actor is beyond me. That was one of the things that did strike me, the film had much less of an Asian influence than the first one (even if I do understand the complaints that for all the Asian set dressing, there were no Asian characters in Blade Runner), and much more of a Soviet one. It felt odd since I don’t think the Soviets were mentioned even once in Blade Runner, possibly to avoid dating the film. I suspect this is partly a hangover from filming in Hungary.
On to some more general points:
- I know why film-makers have characters use axe kicks in films. They look cool. I am willing to go with “rule of cool”, even if I don’t like axe kicks. What I don’t get is why the characters being attacked by axe kicks never use the “proper” defence against them, even if that character is supposed to have fight training. Axe kicks are so easy to defend against, why does nobody ever do it?!
- I say this about every film he’s in, but when did Dave Batista get so good? He’s a foot taller than me and about two of me in weight, and yet, when Sapper Morton put his glasses on I wanted to protect him. That’s a neat trick.
- I really like Hans Zimmer’s work. If you need a film composer who can ape someone else’s style and rework it into something new, he’s the best choice. The problem isn’t him, the problem is when the soundsystem of the cinema you are in can’t take all those tones at once, and you get massive reverb even when the soundtrack doesn’t want it. Also, I’m reasonably sure that chunks of the soundtrack could be used for soundboarding people. I know it’s deliberate but some of that really messed with my brain.
In short (too late, I know), Blade Runner 2049 is a good film. It’s not as good as Blade Runner. It may or may not be a good sequel to Blade Runner.