Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villenueve, 2017)
a Long Way From Ridley
K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner who hunts and retires rogue replicants, stumbles across evidence that these bioengineered humans might in fact be capable of sexually reproducing, putting him directly in the line of fire between the massive Wallace Corporation (formerly the big bad Tyrell company from the first one, whose leader memorably got his head squished by Rutger Hauer’s overzealous Roy Batty) and the shady police state government, leading him to eventually seek out that now aged (no surprise, as we’ve been watching it happen over a ton of big budget movies in the last 35 years) original Blade Runner who (in the best tradition of the noir detective) kept getting handed cans of whoop ass by one replicant after another, Deckard (old handsome crooked face himself, Han So – I mean, Harrison Ford).
This was no way to start off 2018.
To be fair, the evening got off on the wrong foot before the movie even started, as the trailer for a blatantly propagandist male hero worship film named 12 Strong blasted my eyeballs. Selling the ‘true story’ of the titular number of soldiers as if they were 9/11 freedom fighters on a heroic mission, with nary a hint of the real true story, that they were nothing more than hoodwinked pawns (along with the rest of the country), played by oil and weapons interests to begin the longest running conflicts in American history, with no end in sight (the opposite in fact – massive war growth, with Obama happily expanding three-fold on what Bush left him and who knows where Trump will take it), passing trillions of dollars into the hands of shady weapons industry figures, and killing and displacing millions of brown people across the middle East (and in the process radicalizing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them to now have one completely understandable goal in mind, to blow us imperialist Westerners off the face of the Earth – which, in turn, provides the basis on which to continue to funnel trillions of dollars into military profits) didn’t exactly put me in a good mood for the new Blade Runner. In fact, with the trailer spouting perversities familiar to anyone old enough to have been there immediately post-9/11, glib political quotes designed for maximum hysteria, created by a small cabal of filthy rich figures seeing the imperialist opportunities in a post-collapse of the Soviet Union landscape and helped along by the corporate pandering media, to sell America’s illegal invasions and occupations as heroic freedom fighting, including banalities such as “If we quit now, what happened back home is gonna happen again and again”, I kept looking around the packed theater, hoping to see even a hint of outrage by anyone at this atrocious, war-inflaming propaganda, especially at a time when the US is making claims of invading even more countries, only to be psychically crushed by the complete doe eyed servile complacency, with the audience satisfied to bask in the treacly sentiment being presented and to willingly allow the propagandist experience the film was selling to wash over them, I felt sick, alienated and angry. Just another stark reminder for me to stay away from the zombified atmosphere of the multiplexes, where the only outrage expressed is the mainstream issue of the day (have no fear, status quo warriors – stick to Trump anger and metoo hashtagging, and you’ll keep getting all those emotionally reinforcing likes and shoulder pats on Facebook! You belong! You’re a good, informed person! “One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, one of us!”).
So, it was under these unfortunate conditions of which I did my best to now settle in and watch Quebec’s own Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the (more neo-noir than scifi) Ridley Scott masterpiece Blade Runner. And, what do you know, the big blockbuster film turned out to be a vast empty experience, with dull characters moving across massive sets that, other than a few moments such as the orphanage, don’t manage to create anything approaching the feel of a real repressive environment that humans inhabit (which was one of the original Blade Runner’s most brilliant achievements). Ryan Gosling playing K, I guess in trying to present himself as a character with little emotion to help us question whether he might be a replicant himself, merely comes across as unengaged – and unengaging; almost silly, in fact. He wasn’t made to play this type of role, that’s for sure. When the villainous female henchmen (and main bad guy) Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is drowned in the finale by K, the filmmakers desperately work to have the event be meaningful (as they do with the entire film), pouring on the spiritual music and close-ups of her dead face, but the scene feels as interminably long and meaningless as the movie.
In a mainstream society as currently single-mindedly focused on wagging its finger at male perpetrators of sexism, how is this movie, with the terrible tragedy and sadness of its two male leads (Gosling’s K and Ford’s Deckard) sold to us as ultimately not about each losing real women they love, but K having his bunny rabbit hologram playmate destroyed (one which he can have replaced in the exact same form, no less) and Deckard never being able to get back that perfect long lost hottie, the deceased Rachel (Sean Young), not as she was in her later years, but in her major (and I mean, major) prime. Now, as a guy, I understand (the scene of K having that threesome with TWO major bunnies is speculative future wanking material, for sure), but, let’s be clear, it’s as minimizing of the value of women as anything ever seen in a Louis CK or Woody Allen film, that’s for sure (in fact, the Woodman gets one textured and brilliant Oscar worthy performance after another from his female performers, no matter how many of them are currently decrying afterwards how sorry they are of having worked with him).
The movie is a slog to get through. I tried to find inspiration in its imagery, but, after an hour, I couldn’t believe that I still had another 90 minutes to endure. I became too disengaged to really be sure, but it certainly felt like the plot was needlessly convoluted. Afterwards, someone pointed out to me that, yes, it’s empty, but at least it’s aesthetically beautiful. Fine, but I’m pretty sure if I threw 200 million dollars at a pile of dog shit, I could make that look pretty too (well, a hundred at the turds and the other hundred at an ad campaign to convince the public and critics that the fecund stench they’re smelling is actually an elite fragrance and – hey, you’re on your way to making Hollywood films!). Saying that, however, they don’t even fully accomplish this. This is not Roger Deakins finest hour. Even if you don’t compare it against the perfect shadow-filled evocative creation that is the original Blade Runner, 2049 is just way too bright in too many scenes. The moment when K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) is confronted by Luv has them washed out in the most unnecessarily overexposed and unflattering manner. If I was Wright, I’d be pissed off. And when they work the shadows it’s for absurd creations like the big evil corporate CEO (Jared Leto)’s entirely impractical main headquarters being over a big pool of water. What is he, a James Bond supervillain? Just compare it against the original, with Tyrell’s corporate headquarters being his plush, believably ornate bedroom, with a chess board for him to idle away his time, for a set that is both larger than life and yet still connects to something believable and real. The film’s perspective is as empty as the underlying thought that went into the creation of this set. It’s as hollow as the script lines intoned in attempted deep introspection throughout the film, as if they are kernels of wisdoms, such as Deckard lifting his drink and saying something to the effect of “Love sometimes means being a stranger”. What the fuck does that even mean (other than perhaps in this specific case, as a friend pointed out to me, a justification for his absentee fatherism)?
There is one scene in the film, however, that does have a resonance, only in ways the filmmakers surely didn’t intend. As K visits the sad, physically entrapped Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), who sits alone in her manufactured tomb, unable to touch anyone due to illness, he looks around at the wondrous virtual realities she creates to relieve her loneliness and ponders whether it ultimately matters if something is a construct or a real memory. The answer itself can be provided just by comparing the two Blade Runner movies. Where Scott was able to build and create an entire world we could live in and emotionally inhabit with those characters, with its sequel, Villenueve could only create an empty, slick, over-produced empty shell. So, it all comes down to who is doing the constructing.
Where 12 Strong (at least from the trailer and I’m gonna assume that the Jerry Bruckheimer production is faithful to it, cuz why wouldn’t it be? That corporate scumbag has made a deeply lucrative career out of shovelling this kind of nationalistic propaganda) might be completely dishonest, at least it has an actual underlying message that you can clearly see under all the pomp and bullshit false emotionality (brought to you straight from the military/corporate complex — namely, ‘Be afraid! Kill brown and slanty eyed people before they kill you — so we can keep making a lot of dough!’). Blade Runner 2049 on the other hand, doesn’t even have an agenda or ideology on its mind. It has no overriding concern or belief-system underneath it’s massive sets and overblown spiritual music. Though it’ll probably grab a few Academy Awards.
Bye bye, multiplexes, mainstream cinema houses and massive budget Hollywood films. F-off.