dogunderwater’s review published on Letterboxd:
Okay, I'm starting off with the "bad" kind of nerd film criticism, but whatever, I gotta be true to my heart here (it goes deeper after the intro here I promise).
So, you know the Red Letter Media review of Prometheus? (here if you want: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x1YuvUQFJ0 ). The more I think about this film the more increasingly insistent questions I have about replicants, like, why would they even exist in the brutal capitalism the scenary and worldbuilding notes suggest?
- why would you give your murder clone/robot an apartment?
- why would your mining and killing replicants even have genitals
- why would the world ever agree to making more after the backstory of Blackout happened? why would that even be economically viable when there's a clearly exploitable underclass running around future LA?
2049 REALLY shows how the intentional inaccessibility of Blade Runner was essential to its success -- it's flat, and the thematic ambiguities, questions, and any deepness was only there because those themes and questions are inherent to any story of artificial humanity. Blade Runner itself was telling you a straight noir story in a fantastical space, playing with what baggage you as a view brought to the table.
2049 wants, somewhat, to engage with the themes of 'what is human' directly in the script. But it also sets up a whole mess of other themes -- motherhood, fatherhood, family, anti-corporatism, etc. -- and it fails to engage any of them in a satisfying way. It also places questions it is fundamentally uninterested in addressing into the story via optics -- the racialization of the radical replicants shown, the obvious othering-via-accent JOI is programmed to have, the elite replicant being white, the gender politics of everything that's happening. The script can't handle these things and it can't handle it's own snarled ball of themes and plot threads either, leaving you with a very compelling kernel of a story (K's path to self-awareness and his memories) that gets more and more bogged down until we reach the inevitable conclusion.
That said, it's visually astounding and sonically sublime. I saw it in IMAX and it was a sumptuous feast for the eyes (I don't even care how cliche that is, /it's exactly how I felt/) and ears. Hans Zimmer continues his BWONG period but he and Benjamin Wallfisch have finally reached the apex of all of Zimmer's previous similar work. It's alien, strange and disassociating. It sounds like being inside the world's most poetic MRI machine, churning right into you as the film's sprawl of Los Angeles unfurls in front of you. Roger Deakins' work is incredible as well, and the production design sometimes feels like the cinematic equivalent to the future Moebius was forever drawing, cramped and filthy (unlike the uninspired work of Valerian, for example).
But despite being beautiful, some of the world we see IS lacking -- it doesn't appear to be that much different than the original. Time has passed, civilization almost folded in between these two films, but the fashion and city aesthetics seems like they're pulling from the same futurism we've always seen. The thing that kept sticking in my head, for example, was the lack of air filters/surgical mask on folks in the city -- if you're creating a real Asian urban inspired world you have to at least be caught up with the present reality there, right? But this future is too much like how the future was imagined in the 80s (up to the white people being our leads and POC being exotic others to visit or fuck) -- if the movie is meant to be that future's future, it has to go further than 2049 did. Why are all the Old Media touchstones the golden oldies of the 80s if we're in 2049? Where are the terrifying holograms of contemporary performers? Give me Radiohead or Erykah Badu crackling in and out of being in the dark.
I loved a lot of this film, especially K's personal journey of unsettling discoveries, but Harrison Ford felt like an unnecessary addition. The most he contributed to the film was when he helped heighten the tension of a (admittedly incredibly beautiful) sea-side showdown. Jared Leto's character only serves to put cracks into the already shaky premise of replicants, and is boring as hell to boot. His company makes for some lovely architecture but there's nothing important to him at all. And, honestly, the replicant rebels? The Animatrix did it better and more concisely.
Ultimately 2049 is a great superficial experience really bogged down by a weak script that needed a harsher editorial hand. It's vision of the future looks incredible but stumbles because it relies too heavily on futurism of the 80s instead of striving becoming an innovator in how we view the future (and how we fictionally construct it) that the original was. Deakins and Zimmer and Wallfisch did amazing work, the actors are all doing the most with the least (Robin Wright could teach a class on truly committing and selling atrocious screenwriting with this). I'm still thinking about the film, but not because the story moved me. Instead I'm thinking of all the missed opportunities (imagine, a movie with a clearer thematic vision that brought back Sean Young and her Rachael rather than making Harrison Ford punch his way around).
Anyway, what I'm saying is, don't build your modern cyberpunk from aesthetics of past. Also, to quote my dear Claire Napier from WWAC: "hampton fancher is a basic bitch."