As I write these words, Blade Runner 2049 has made all of about $40 million at the box office, which is, so far, a pretty big financial disappointment. There are plenty of theories about why it’s not doing so hot, including the fact that it’s not drawing in much of a female audience at all. But the thing is, I don’t think the movie actually cares how much money it’s making. The studio execs probably do, sure, but if we can take a second and pretend that the movie itself has human thoughts and feelings, I don’t think its goal is to appeal to a wide audience. It has much deeper philosophical aims, concerned with fate, what makes us human, and where the line can be drawn between artificial intelligence and real, true life.
If you’re not familiar with the original 1982 Blade Runner, it takes place in a very near future where a company has developed androids known as replicants, which are nearly indistinguishable from actual people. Some of these replicants go a little haywire and have to be retired by a type of police force known as blade runners. 2049 picks up 30 years later, with new versions of replicants that are apparently a whole lot easier to control, but with blade runners still necessary to destroy earlier versions of the robots that are hanging around here and there. Interestingly, our hero, played by Ryan Gosling, is, himself, explicitly a replicant, despite also being a blade runner. Before long, Gosling uncovers a seemingly impossible mystery that makes him question his motives, his own nature, and the creation of life itself.
Blade Runner 2049 is extraordinarily ambitious both technically and thematically, and there’s no way I can do it justice by trying to boil it down here. But I will say that I was surprised by my mild reaction to it. The movie is visually stunning and the sound design is exceptional, but it’s dreadfully long: I could feel every one of its 164 minutes. And it presents some questionable plot points in pursuit of its grand themes. But I give it credit for having the audacity to tackle those themes in a film world that’s generally only concerned with the bottom line. This movie has much bigger things in mind.