After people have been asking themselves the same questions over and over again that arose in 1982’s Blade Runner, does the sequel give answers? We both watched Blade Runner 2049 on the same day but we didn’t end up on the same page. With Leonie not having seen the original, does it matter that we didn’t? One of us loved it, one of us didn’t. Read both sides of the coin and find out: Miss or Masterpiece?
What is the overall feel?
L: I went into this movie with a completely blank slate. I had seen the trailer two days before and thought, hey, looks great, let’s watch it! The original film as well as the three clips that were released prior to Blade Runner 2049 are still unknown to me. But having sat through this movie, which, according to some critics, shows you why cinema was made, I can only describe my feeling towards it with one emotion that ran through my veins as though Diazepam had been directly injected into my core: apathy. Well, at first. Because after a while that apathy turned into quiet indignation emphasized by each and every scene, sentence, character and plot point. But we’ll get to that.
V: Having to step into some of the most influential sci-fi film noir footsteps is a difficult challenge to face. When a movie is so beloved like the original Blade Runner, it seems nothing can compare. Many felt nervous about the announcement but the trailers quickly nullified most worries. Blade Runner 2049 is an experience that I will always remember. The minute the credits started to roll, I wanted to watch it again. Despite the almost 3-hour running time. My general thoughts are constantly spiraling with awe and hearing Leonie’s opposite opinion fills me with stupendous excitement. The effect of cinema is one of the most enticing phenomena, no matter which way it takes you.
Was it engaging enough?
V: The groundwork of the story is simple but what elevates it are the questions raised along the way. To me, it is not about satisfying story telling on screen. Being confused, wrecking your brain over a concept, feeling inspired and filling the blanks with your own ideas and perspectives complete the story in your mind, off screen. Therefore, the answer is yes, it was engaging. And it didn’t simply continue the 80s version. More details and different takes enriched it with more depth and intrigue. Having a replicant that is also a blade runner invites a reconceptualization of what a replicant is in the first few seconds of the movie. The sheer concept of them being able to create life on top of that broadens and challenges everything you thought you had settled on after watching the original.
L: Did I find the plot engaging? No. Not even a little bit. Looking at the very base structure of BR2049, it’s a detective film. Wrapped in a story about a controlling government. Put in a dystopian setting. Adding highly advanced technology. With a story that isn’t able to find a coherent direction. Just one of the many parallels that I (unfortunately) couldn’t help but draw between it and this year’s live-action Ghost in the Shell. Had the film at least managed to raise the questions Viki mentions above, I’d be rudimentarily intrigued. But for me, the debate of whether humans are good or bad, whether robots are property or sentient entities with the right to live, was
a) not posed as a point of discussion – humans were painted as the villains pretty much from the get-go. And
b) pushed so far into the background that you barely remembered it as an issue at all behind the haze of individual identity crises and gratuitous landscape/cityscape shots.
If a story wants me to fill in the blanks, it, itself, needs to be more than a 2+ hours long Choose-Your-Own-Adventure in my mind.
Can replicants be more human than humans?
V: Some people argue that this movie values style over substance and atmosphere over character development. I can definitely see where this is coming from but my opinion on this is similar to what I mentioned about the story. The characters are interesting, flawed, creative and multi-dimensional. These dimensions don’t necessarily appear on screen or are reflected in the script but rather grow in your own imagination, triggered by what is stimulating your senses. Thus, I think what this movie established visually is not disregarding substance for luscious scenery. It offers a different approach to what it means to build a character. If a silent monologue without voice-over can make me understand the character more than three pages of dialogue, it feels truly special to me. Regardless of the creators’ intentions for me to see this individual, the way my emotional reactions created it, within my viewing experience, it felt clear and it felt real. Even if we’re speaking of replicants. Their emotions and motivations felt human. Ryan Gosling playing the LAPD detective K was the perfect fit. His subtle but impactful acting floored me. K’s desire to be more than a slave and to have an actual family are human desires. Wallace’s henchman Luv strives to be the best, also a very human trait. Hence, replicants score very human reactions on my part. Arguably even less of a human, Joi made my skin tingle through the ideological conflict in her character. The entire cast, main protagonists and side characters, delivered greatly and I could not see a weak link. And to briefly comment on aesthetics: make up and costume design excelled in seamlessly merging into the world of Blade Runner.
L: Scroll back up again and read Viki’s first sentence of this section. I am one of those people. I did not see the multi-dimensional aspect of any of these characters. Especially K, who appeared in the vast majority of scenes, had zero emotional impact on me whatsoever even though I do not fault Ryan Gosling at all for this fact. He did a stellar job considering the character he had to bring to ‘life’. He was really nothing more than that one special bro that every sci-fi movie calls its hero, even though all he brings to the table is a non-descript shell of a character with hardly the resemblance of a trait and a series of events neatly put in his path. I have seen nameless video game characters with more personality. Jared Leto aka Wallace, well, what can I say. Not eccentric enough to be of any interest in terms of moral ambiguity and not dark enough to be a good villain. It might be a strange comparison but he reminded me of Skins‘ Cassie Ainsworth – lots of blank stares and internal “yeah. wow.” And what on God’s green earth was Lennie James’ performance? Did he not know how to act nervous so he just sped up his movements by an unnecessary factor? Acting-wise this movie was fine. But the characters themselves felt undeniably fabricated and when you add that to the horror that, at times, was the dialogue (“I’m only two. One and zero.” Yeh, thanks for spelling it out, hun.) you got yourself a viewing experience that’s nothing short of nauseating.
Just a bunch of loud noises?
L: Maybe my reason for criticizing this particular point is that I am a visual person more than an auditive one. But I was unable to fully immerse myself in the story from the first shot onward as I was attacked by OUTRAGEOUSLY LOUD NOISES left, right and center. Especially center. So much so, that the speaker in the middle of the screen made the entire picture vibrate. The movie can’t be faulted for this, rather the cinema should have done a better job. However, the sound, therefore, did nothing to improve my assessment of BR2049. Or my skyrocketing annoyance. For the life of me, I couldn’t even tell you what genre the score was. But the sounds within the universe seemed so unoriginal. Take those little, black, flying video cameras (is that what they were?) floating through Wallace’s headquarters – the most unnecessary of all gadgets this movie didn’t need – with the god-awful clicking sound they emitted. At this point I am so very done with trying to justify in my mind the choices this film made with regard to what such a future might look/sound like. It’s a futile endeavor, it seems.
V: My answer to this is simple: take a look at my Spotify account and ask my neighbors whether they felt their walls trembling. As everything in this movie is in perfect concordance, so was the score and sound editing. Besides the performances of the actors and actresses, the music caused me strong physical reactions the whole time. Here, again, I can understand how others might think it’s just a synth with some loud noises but to me, it feels magical. Can’t tell you why, that is just how I feel. Another aspect I immensely appreciated was the sound editing and mixing. To execute the feeling of complete immersion, every sound felt rough and uncensored, adding a level of realness. Walking on wooden floors, the crunching of leather, K flying in his car – everything was part of the experience.
Beautiful or dull?
V: Truly, I am frequently amazed at what technology achieves in cinema and I am extremely excited to be able to witness it. Everything in this movie was complimentary to create this bleak dystopian version of the future. Cinematography, production design, colors, costumes, lighting design, locations, set design, landscapes – all of it organically created this world. There was never a moment that took me out of it or that felt like a different universe. Cohesive is the magic word and let’s add stunning and magnificent to the mix. Slow panning shots over a world that is so destroyed and unattractive but still makes you gasp at its beauty is a bitter-sweet paradox and exactly what I enjoy. Dullness and melancholy coexist with neon colors and bright light. Every scene in Wallace’s headquarters in particular brilliantly used light and optical distortions to offer yet another alluring visual. So, I say: it was dull AND beautiful.
L: Now finally, a point we can agree on. This movie was a stunner. My eyeballs enjoyed many of the visual stylistic choices that were made. But that’s about it. I liked the films looks on the surface. If you were to take pictures and hang them up in your room you’d have a nice aesthetic. You know what other movie everybody said was visually gorgeous? Yep, you guessed it, Ghost in the Shell. Now that that link is established, can we please start to demand more from our movies than snazzy visuals? Here’s a thought: from now on, let’s try actually making sense with the things we portray! I know, what a concept. Did BR2049 tell or comment on anything with the Russian ballerina holograms dancing through the inner city? Was there any point to the over-sized condom spitting out the next replicant? Should the audience really have to think about broken ankles every time Luv walks across the footbridge in Wallace’s evil inside-pond lair? I’m guessing the reasonable answer to those is NOPE.
Wait. We’re here to wank off to how many minimalistic geometric patters we can interlace with dystopian wastelands? Well, never mind then.
LEAST FAVORITE PARTS
What got your wand in a knot?
L: Where to begin. Aside from aaallllll the flaws I have already mentioned, what bothered me the most by far was the latent racism and blatant sexism. Lemme ‘splain:
This is a future where Japan has apparently taken over the entertainment and tech industries. Billboards use Japanese signs, police equipment operates in Japanese (which is just…why?), etc. So then why does this movie not feature a single Japanese person? Not one? And don’t you argue that there was a little Asian girl in a fabricated memory for, like, two seconds max. That clearly doesn’t count. No. Instead we have Joi. Apparently the ‘ideal woman’ who, if we follow the logic that entertainment and tech are in their hands, was likely created by a Japanese company as well. But for some reason, the Ideal woman is, again, presented as a white woman. Which would make sense, albeit offensively problematic, if we assumed that in this fictional future, Japanese people would deem white women most beautiful or that they created Joi in such a way to cater to a US demographic. However, why did any of the film’s creators then think it was a good idea to put K’s exemplar in clothing that looks traditionally Japanese? Is it one of Joi’s default clothing options? Is K a fan of the look? It simply isn’t addressed, let alone explained, thus, I will not give it a pass on the latent racism.
As for the sexism, holy guacamole, why is nobody talking about this? Women as well as men are portrayed in the most unflattering, stereotypical light. The men are shown to be stoic hard-asses completely void of any real emotion (aside from the odd outburst of anger). K (later named Joe, cause, you know, that’s the name of a real man’s man), Wallace and, at first, even Deckard have zero feeling towards human or non-human beings other than detached curiosity or hostility. Why Hollywood still chooses to believe that a strong male hero cannot have a heart or any character development towards, you know, being able to engage in normal human interaction, is beyond me. And I don’t believe it is a simple matter of their robotic nature because even then they could have been written as actually likable characters. Same goes for the women. Their behavior is equally stereotypical, just on the other end of the spectrum. While the men in BR2049 seem to be occupied with practicing their most emotionless non-expressions, the only thing women seem to crave is love, connection, approval. Luv wants to be Wallace’s honey (maybe not romantically but she yearns for his unwavering approval); Joi, although programmed to love K, is willing to sacrifice herself to keep K safe – which wouldn’t be all that bothersome if there was anything, ANYTHING else to her character; even Lieutenant Joshi had to be shown to get flirty with K after a couple drinks. These characters are not only one-dimensional, they’re also one-directional.
Two more, rather small issues I’d like to mention:
There was one singular moment, as far as I could tell, that was supposed to elicit a chuckle out of the audience, namely when Deckard says “I love this song” as fake-Elvis serenades him and K. But the comedic timing was just so far off, I barely raised an eyebrow at it.
Luv’s fighting style is the other issue. In the final fight between her and K, all she does is attack him with kicks to the face administered while turning irritatingly frequently. The lack of originality just bothered me.
V: Honestly, there is nothing in this movie that bothered me in its entirety but there sure where certain things that left a sour taste in my mouth. With the awareness of possibly creating some enemies: Harrison Ford was not doing it for me in the beginning. After K confronts him and we get to spend more time with Deckard again, I felt like he was too Indiana Jones-y. Granted, if every single one in this movie was a depressed grunge lord, it would maybe fall flat. But my first impression of him was too goofy. Later on, however, he hit me with all his glory. Especially when he meets ‘Rachel’ again, that scene was amazing. Talking of Rachel, unfortunately I get taken out of a movie from CGI elements. It doesn’t matter how good they are, my brain changes gears and I leave the experience. The same was the case in said scene (because of Rachel’s CGI face) so that was a moment I couldn’t enjoy as much. And the next one, I realize, is a really personal problem but I kept asking myself what would happen to Deckard’s dog and bees. Visions of starving animals crept into my mind and I couldn’t pay full attention to the movie for a few minutes. Other than that, I got nothing.
As for all the things Leonie talks about: I agree that the movie was racist and sexist but for me it was unwaveringly clear that it was included as a form of criticism on exactly those ideologies. It is a dystopian future after all and the characters are not supposed to be lovable, at least not right away.
What deserves some extra love?
V: Here, I want to mention 4 things in particular:
- Pacing: Although this movie is a whooping 2h 43min long, it did not feel like it. Complete immersion swept me away and time flew by. To me, it never dragged or felt slow.
- More questions than before: Having more questions than before watching the movie is what makes it so brilliant. With every answer came another question and that’s what sparks endless conversation and I am all about that.
- Action: The fighting sequences were rough and violent. As in the original, this movie showed the ugly faces and the spit and the blood and implemented all the noises. Gruesome, realistic, great.
- K realizing Joi was a lie: My favorite moment of the entire film was K finally realizing that Joi was just programmed to his needs. The entire time I kept asking myself whether he would ever see through his naïve illusion of love (again, very human). And when he did, Ryan’s performance struck me like lightning. One could also go further and start talking about whether their relationship actually was ‘legit’ or ‘real’ and what that even means. Comparable to the concept of the movie Her. Endless discussions, you see?
L: Contrary to Viki, I enjoyed the small exchange between Deckard and K at the bar. It had a comfortably quiet feeling that the film desperately needed after hours of emotional drainage. Plus, it felt like the only scene in which the audience got a glimpse into any character’s personality at all.
Moreover, Harrison Ford to some extent saved my hope in cinematic future. As I said, Ryan Gosling had it going as much as he could performance-wise. But Harrison Ford’s acting felt so realistic and authentic against the backdrop of “this is dystopia, we must not feel” roboticism.
Got more to say?
V: As mentioned before, I have seen the original, whereas Leonie has not. And although I am not saying you have to have seen it or that this movie can’t stand on its own, there is a greater level of appreciation if you have. I would compare it to The Force Awakens: of course the movie should be good on its own, but one cannot disregard the past. They have to include fan service, iconic scenes and insider nods. Not things that can’t be enjoyed if you haven’t seen the originals but you enjoy them SO MUCH MORE if you have. And with Blade Runner 2049 being so particular and stylistic, it is not necessary to love the first Blade Runner specifically but you definitely need to enjoy the genre. Otherwise, you won’t like this movie from the get-go. And I would say seeing the first one helps a lot with all the things that people might see as dragging on or boring. Does that make it a bad film because it relies so much on other material? Or does it give the movie a lesser claim for its praise? No! Let’s look at it like this: Books. You can appreciate a movie so much more when you’ve read the book. You can also hate it so much more and expect so much more from it. The fact that there is already existing material in that universe doesn’t make it completely dependent on it. But it has to be cohesive. And a second part of something makes just way more sense if paired with the first part. Makes it better and more complete.
L: I have to agree, that establishing a connection to the original can add another layer of enjoyment to a project. But since BR2049 was not intended as the second installment of the Blade Runner series, nor is it a sequel in a Part 1/Part 2 sense, the film’s creators cannot assume for the whole audience to have seen a movie released 30 years ago, hell, for some viewers (like me) that wasn’t even part of their generation. Thus, it is the filmmakers’ duty to create an experience that can stand on its own, has a cohesive story and explains the plot well enough for viewers to understand it without prior knowledge.
I am a fan of 80s movies, of the dystopia genre and of sci-fi (though not necessarily all rolled into one) so I am sad to say that this film didn’t even come close to meeting my expectations.
So, miss or masterpiece?
L: Blade Runner 2049 missed the mark of a good movie and landed right in Disappointment County for me. It is never a good sign when after the movie you hear someone saying “I don’t know…what was the story?!” The vast majority of viewers did enjoy it which means if a sequel is released, it will be uncannily similar. Which, in turn, means I will take my over-prized movie ticket money and spend it on Netflix. At least there I can leave (after 2 hours which felt like 5) without feeling guilty.
V: To me, it is undoubtedly a masterpiece and more than a worthy sequel. The ending of this movie could potentially set up another continuation and although I would definitely enjoy that, I wouldn’t want all the answers to wrap everything up in a nice bow. Not knowing is exactly what I love about it. Can Replicants have souls? What is a soul? Was Rachel special? Was Deckard special? Was it just programming? What does it mean to be human? And
IS DECKARD A REPLICANT?
I don’t know and I don’t ever want to know.
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