Musings on Blade Runner 2049

Alison Scott
4 min readOct 12, 2017

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Blade Runner 2049: Three Men and a Chatbot

So, back from Blade Runner 2049, and some thoughts, which will be spoiler free for the first paragraph or so so that you aren’t spoiled, but don’t keep reading unless you’ve seen the film or don’t care.

It’s really pretty. There are lots of very beautiful, well-thought out vistas. But there’s about thirty minutes too much in the way of establishing shots. The film would have been better without that and spending a few more minutes patching up the plot.

We saw it in IMAX 3D due to that being what was available at the time we wanted to see it; IMAX is great but the 3D conversion adds nothing to the film and might detract from it. It is still worth seeing movies that have been filmed in 3D, but not conversions.

There are many callouts to the original, such as a giant ATARI sign. Many plot points and characters contain visual and stylistic echoes from the original film, but they’re twisted sufficiently that they come up fresh. Compare and contrast Star Wars: A Force Awakens, where the plot is largely the same beat for beat but the visuals are often quite different. This is a better way of doing nostalgic fan service. Still, I don’t think it does as good a job of future building as the original did. The original Blade Runner was shocking; it gave a real sense of what a busy, diverse city might be like in the dystopian future. Our world has steadily become more like the one shown in Blade Runner. But this world seems less richly diverse than the one depicted before, and less futuristic.

Ryan Gosling is supposed to be playing someone who starts out passive and gradually gains agency. But you can’t tell that from his facial expressions, which are wooden at the beginning, wooden at the end, and wooden in the middle. Some of that is a deliberate call-out to the Noir Deckard of the original film. But partly this is that Gosling is playing Emmet from the Lego movie; he’s an ordinary plastic toy who believes he has had greatness thrust upon him.

The entire film is full of massive plot holes and things that are used to drive plot but make no sense. What caused the Blackout? How did that work exactly? Gosling finds a living flower in the first scene so, um, picks it. How likely is that? If you’re hiding a person from GIANT EVIL CORPORATION, do you make them one of the G.E.C’s star freelancers? (No.) The leader of the replicant rebellion has literally no backstory; she exists only to propel the plot forward at one point.

My viewing companion was really annoyed by the cult-of-motherhood soul is in physical reproduction stuff, and she had a point. ONLY A MAN could conclude that once you’ve got the ability to make replicants in machines, breeding them through good old fashioned pregnancy is a more efficient and faster way to increase numbers.

There are a load of shots of naked women, and they’re largely horrid. When Gosling goes out to ruined-Las-Vegas, there are lengthy and completely pointless shots of sexualised naked female statues. Why? Are we supposed to believe that future Los Angeles, a large city in the always-puritan US, has massive billboards with naked women on them? Because I just don’t buy it. There’s a lot of graphic violence to women too, and some of that is sexualised. One particularly unpleasant scene is used primarily to signal that Jared Leto’s character is evil because, you know, we might not have worked that out otherwise.

Has there ever been a film with more female characters that nevertheless still manages to fail the Bechdel test? (It passes the Bechdel test for AI’s handsomely though). Joi the sexbot is in many ways the most interesting character in the film, but one reading of her is as pure refrigerator girl. Her lack of character development is forgivable, but the police chief (Robin Wright, doing good work on unpromising material), Luv, the resistance leader and Stelline don’t get any either. Women only exist in this movie to provide plot crutches for men.

And yet, there’s lot’s that’s good. The philosophical core of the film is strong. Many of the characters are archetypes considering the question of what it means to be truly human, and who gets to decide that for you. Several of the characters have their agency artificially reduced, either by programming, design or management, and the film explores the effects of this in multiple ways. It’s dense with allusion, not just to the first film, but to loads of other SF and other fiction as well (I am sure fans will have a lot of fun for years to come winkling all the references out). Harrison Ford acts; this is a strong role for him.

And best of all, it has plenty of stuff to mull over and argue about. Isn’t that what films are for?

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