While I was honestly never a huge fan of the original 1982 Blade Runner, I can still appreciate the desolate post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the film. Based on Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film was much different than the poorly crafted story of the book. While Dick has the ability to cultivate unique concepts and blueprints of futuristic worlds, he fails to fill them appropriately or utilize them to their full potential. The world brought to life in the Blade Runner film(s) is a dark one with a specific aesthetic, but similarly fails to see beyond the narrow male perspective of its protagonists. Pollution and overcrowding create a sense of claustrophobia even while most of the interior spaces that the characters travel through are lonely and sterile. While there seems to be many different languages printed on buildings and in hologram ads, there are suspiciously not many people of color and the representation of women is troubling.
While watching Blade Runner 2049, I had one immediate thought: guess something must have happened to all the women and people of color in this future? The only women in the film are either of three things (or a combo of these): Cold husks of business women, tortured victims, or literal sex objects. Also all of them are white. Robin Wright's character (Ryan Gosling's boss) is a hardened woman just trying to do her job, though we don't get much deeper than that. For being one of the only humans we meet throughout the film, her character seems to be unusually devoid of any familiar humanity. The only difference between her and the female replicant in the film is robot strength and some fancy high kicks. Then there is K's home system AI, called Joi; a hologram programmed to comfort the owner of the tech, she morphs into anything K wants moment to moment including a doting housewife, a chill girlfriend, a compliable sex kitten - something like the girlfriend experience in holographic form. We get glimpses of these Joi models and other similar tech advertisements throughout the film, complete with towering holograms of naked female bodies dancing and swaying seductively. Apparently only straight white dudes made it to see the year 2049, with all advertising geared towards them (wait, sound familiar?). The strange sex scene was thankfully not reminiscent of the rape in the original, but was still uncomfortable and rather out of place. K's Joi program hires a prostitute for K to essentially use as a fleshlight while Joi's image is layer projected over her. This effectively erases the prostitute from the equation as a person, and allows K to use her body like an object to cater to his fancy.
I did however enjoy the cinematography (thanks Deakins) and thought the film looked great. I really enjoyed the caustics light patterns on the walls in the replicant production building and the dank, gloomy surrounding world. The characters however were hollow and the only thing I seemed to care about was what happened to Decker's dog at the end. (He better have returned for his pup, replicant or not!)
One argument is that since the world portrayed is a dystopia, the skewed gender representations are acceptable because it is not supposed to be ideal. But the fact that it is not criticizing this gender ratio and actually seems to be portraying the world as a sort of sexual utopia for men instead, is indeed deeply problematic. Any sexual whim can be catered to, whether you go to public brothels or choose a more private experience with a Joi program. Men's heterosexuality is first and foremost (like always).
I also just don't understand why no one can seem to even fathom a future where women are not prostitutes. I mean even the recent second installment of Guardians of the Galaxy (isn't it a kids movie by the way?) had a damn alien brothel scene! I wish for once (post apocalyptic or not), a future could be envisioned where gender disparity is simply not a thing. Whether that be some dystopia where everyone is starving yet men and women work together on equal footing to survive, or a brighter future where true equality exists and everyone is allowed to thrive. Why is it that women must always be the ones who suffer the most, even in fiction? Women as inferior sex objects is not our natural state of being, but has been molded to be that way by men. Women deserve more, even in fictitious worlds.