I can sum up my review with “If you liked the first one, I think you’ll like this one.” Like many of my movie reviews, I’m going to put “spoiler warning” in here. This one is stronger than most because there is a particular scene I’m going to talk about that is a quite spoiler-y.
I don’t hate Blade Runner. I didn’t hate 2049. I just don’t love it either.
I think Blade Runner is an interesting piece of art. I think 2049 tried to be an interesting piece of art. I’m less certain whether it will hold up to the level the first one did.
Let’s start with what I DO like. I enjoy the cerebral approach to asking “what does it mean to be human” that both movies ask. I like that the replicants are (some of them) struggling with the question. I like how there is a question of “what makes memories real” because who hasn’t been told a story so many times they feel like it’s real? I have – my family has stories I don’t remember myself but I feel like I lived it anyway because I’ve heard it from so many angles.
The plot follows some very similar beats as the original Blade Runner. For good or bad, there is a parallel between the two. Much as people have criticized Star Wars Force Awakens for being super-similar to Star Wars A New Hope, I’m going to put that as a critique here. I enjoyed SWFA, but yeah- it has some mimicry to SWANH. So, if you haven’t seen Blade Runner 20149 yet (and you might want to) just know you might not feel the same anticipation at the end because, well frankly, it won’t be terrible surprising.
The characters are also very similar – these super-detatched males. Frankly, I think Kay looks just as miserable as Decker ever did. Decker hid his behind alcohol, Kay hides his behind Joi. The weird relationship with his AI girlfriend is quite strange. This is also where I fall of the fan-bandwagon for Blade Runner (both of them).
I don’t care about these men. I don’t understand them or relate to them. Frankly, I don’t really care if they themselves live or die. I tend to feel closer to the characters around them then I do the men themselves. The prostitute in 2049 was a more sympathetic character than the protagonist.
(SPOILERS) There is a specific scene that stands out in 2049. It’s the scene where Kay is deciding what he’s going to do and a giant ad interacts with him. She says “Such a good Joe.” Playing on the word Joe for a man using a prostitute, the ad for a difference version of ‘his’ Joi should be a moment where the protagonist feels. I know this is sort of the point of the movie; but because of HOW they framed this characters already…. I have no idea what he’s thinking or feeling.
You see, we do know he can feel. We know he has emotions because he gets angry when he learns about the memory being real. So when he is looking at the face of his dead ‘lover’ (for lack of a better term for a hologram) and she calls him “Joe” with the overlays of prostitution AND his Joi wanting to “name” him Joe…. what does he feel? Is he angry? Betrayed? Hopeful? Tired? Happy? He is this blank slate in that moment and I [the audience] got cut away from him. I know I felt this moment of grief on his behalf, being reminded of his loss and betrayed in a single word… but I don’t know if he even cared.