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'Blade Runner 2049': Virtual Truth & Justice
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires film critic
02:58PM / Friday, October 13, 2017
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I'm not exactly sure what I saw, but I kind of think it was sort of OK, maybe. It's quite a tussle trying to follow the unnecessarily convoluted story in Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049." The miasmic visuals of the scorched Earth scenario frustratingly obscure the gist of the thing. Yet, when the complicating fog eventually lifts way toward the end of the near three-hour followup to the 1982 "Blade Runner," we see it's not all that intricate. Rather, it's apparent that unable to dazzle us with brilliance, the director attempts to baffle us with, well, you know what.
The film attempts to compensate for its lack of truly ingenious plotting with a foreboding atmosphere of CGI and blue screen-engineered landscapes bathed in a gauziness that conveniently forsakes detail. Yep, it's that good old post-apocalyptic world filmmakers have been threatening us with for some time now, here designated as "after the Blackout" by the bulk of its drearily unhappy inhabitants, some human and some of them replicants created by megalomaniac villain-industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).
This is not a pretty picture. Yet for all its shortcomings, "Blade Runner 2049" is at very least an emissary of the common sense that those powers that be would, in the name of financial profit, obstruct us from employing. There is no sun visible through the ubiquitous filter of pollution. It's all parched desert or filthy urban decay. Humankind and its copies trudge through the morass with zombie-like wretchedness. You'll want to run to the concession stand and trade your popcorn and Goobers for some vitamin D and C.
But "2049" alternately gives and taketh away. Its ubiquitous metaphors that beg any intelligent viewer to make certain that his or her elected officials are doing what they can to halt if not stop global warming, as well as keep America from becoming a shameless, totalitarian plutocracy, are in the best sci-fi tradition. Of course, to hedge his bet, director Villeneuve suffuses his offering with more than enough murder, mayhem and cataclysm to hold the attention of those who couldn't care less about the humanitarian implications. It gets pretty visceral.
Starring amidst all this unsavoriness, and perhaps representative of the brave, uncorrupted patriot we hope will sooner than later rescue us from our own national nightmare, Ryan Gosling is K, a second-generation replicant in service of the LAPD. A blade runner, his job is to terminate first generation biorobotic androids, all of whom are now deemed replicant non grata for reasons to be later divulged. But of course K, who will be dubbed Joe by his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), isn't exactly your everyday obedient replicant.
Through an evolving epiphany sparked by his latest mission, K discovers within himself the iconic, freedom-loving citizen ... a direct contradiction to the sheep he's been programmed to be by the scurrilously greedy Wallace. It has him questioning authority and the whole subservient shebang. But it's going to take a bunch of bravery if our detective is to successfully follow the clues his ingenuity uncovers. The AI mogul has his minions everywhere. Hark, Watson, a pretty typical cat and mouse game is afoot.
But again, the mixture of intriguing, high concept ideas about technology and the future, as well as the biting criticism of a corporately dictated society, almost belie the overall depressing aura of the movie. Some brave new world this is, where often is heard a discouraging word and the skies are cloudy all day. It is a stark portrait that we wish could serve as a Dickensian Ghost of America Future, sent to save the souls of our supposed representatives who are currently staying neutral in a moral crisis: "Here! Is this how you envision the bitter fruits of your complicity?"
But let's not shoot the messengers. The principal players are all strikingly effective as the denizens of this dastardly unhappy destiny, whether human, android or holograph. Drawing us into his challenging fate, Ryan Gosling is emotively credible as the title character; Harrison Ford is a sight for sore eyes as an important leftover from the 1982 original; and, as a spiritually philosophical embodiment of love in the cyber age, Ana de Armas is winsome as K's girl Friday/sweetheart/fairy godmother. There is no shortage of speculation.
The thing is, while I put in my time and satisfied my curiosity as to where goeth this look into the blemished crystal ball first peered into by the visionary Philip K. Dick in his novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (1968), I won't be wishing to see it a second time. However, being an egalitarian sort, if "Blade Runner 2049" plays the tube in the distant future and my robotic butler wishes the night off to view it, no skin off my silicon chips.
"Blade Runner 2049," rated R, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford and Ana de Armas. Running time: 164 minutes
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