Blade Runner 2049: Nothing is safe from reboots

A film that is being lauded as “the best sci-fi film of the decade” (painfully ignoring the genius, original, unsettling Ex Machina), is a 2 hour and 40 minute return to the Blade Runner universe of 1982. I have fairly strong feelings about the original, so it was only fair that I expected to have fairly strong feelings about its sequel – but, spoiler alert, I don’t? This film made me feel dead inside.

Don’t get me wrong. This film is stunningly shot, with juxtapositions, minimalism, and wide shots that always get me going. The music was incredible, bringing back the futuristic sci-fi noir jazz that the first used so successfully. And, of course, all of the acting was flawless. Absolutely flawless.

But visual and musical success doth not a film masterpiece make in mine eyes.

Despite its unfortunate levels of sexism, the original film had very clear cut concerns and criticisms with society. Themes of anti-capitalism and body autonomy are obvious. It doesn’t try too hard to deal with too many themes at once, and that is very much to its benefit.

2049, however, doesn’t seem to know exactly what its angle is, and therefore dances around its themes. It could easily be anti-capitalist like the first. 30 years on and we are only deeper into the rabbit hole of capitalism and classism. And yet, the films Sony affiliations have forced the narrative to only flirt with the idea of capitalisms faults – but it never goes to second base.

It could also easily follow the narrative of body autonomy. And yes, it’s difficult to have a robot/AI narrative without touching on issues of autonomy and individuality, and yet somehow the film still seems to fall short, never seeming to come to a conclusion on the issue.

It could very easily have shown themes of racism. Replicants are born to be slaves to humans in order to create more wealth. We even see Ryan Gosling’s character, K, called “skinner” and “skinhead”, and experience similar interactions to what ethnic minorities often do (and I don’t think I have to explain what “skinner” rhymes with). And yet, K’s played by a white guy, and there feature even fewer people of colour than the original. So that theme falls short. Way, way, way short.

There was even a moment when I wondered if it was a feminist film. It almost – for a second – seemed as though it was attempting to discuss the ways in which society works to bolster male egos at all costs, often at the expense of females. But with the extreme views of skyscraper sized naked women in sexual poses constantly framing the film, the gruesome and drawn out deaths of all but one female (very reminiscently of the first film), and the extremely archetypal role each female played (lover, whore, monster, mother, virgin, mentor) it became clear this wasn’t the case. If you have to wonder if a film is feminist or sexist… Well, you shouldn’t have to wonder.

So what does it discuss? I found this very hard to figure out, and I’m still not entirely sure. Whilst the first film very strongly utilizes lighting to emphasise themes, the second film seems to ignore this concept completely. I could find almost no correlation between lighting themes or patterns – except for Wallace industries copying the Tyrell corps extreme yellow lighting.

Mis-en-scene didn’t work to hard to emphasise any further ideas on capitalism that the previous film hadn’t already done. Costume design seemed to do very little in the way of indicating theme. Hell, even the one motif throughout the film – a horse – didn’t give me much in the way of knowing what the fuck this film was trying to say. Like, really say.

So in the end, all it seemed to come down to was “what does it mean to be human?” “what does it mean to be living?”. And yes, these are important questions that sci-fi often grapples with, but often so much more successfully. Using AI as a device to discuss humanity, autonomy, and what it takes to become human is far from new. We’ve been seeing this since the dawn of sci-fi (literally, the first sci-fi media was Frankenstein and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out those themes). It’s also not uncommon, we have Humans, Westworld, Ex Machina, and Her to name a recent few.

So what the fuck guys? If we’re going to give a sequel to Blade Runner 30 years later, we better make it fucking worth it. We better give it a profoundly deep thematic narrative. We better lay it on thick. And we better have something to fucking say about it.

So why don’t we? Why did I not walk away from this long ass film feeling as though I could analyse it for days?

But maybe I’m too far gone from film school to recognise it. And I bet there’s a film teacher out there RIGHT NOW writing their whole syllabus around this film. But to me, if the theme isn’t at least strong and meaningful for me in the first go, then it’s not worth it. There’s no point trying to say something profound unless some people can hear you. And if I can’t hear you then it’s not fucking worth the disrespectful shit women and people of colour go through with this franchise.

So, Hollywood. Any other sexist sci-fi’s you want to reboot? You know, I think Dune has been untouched so far? Go right fucking ahead honestly I’m just exhausted anyway.