There was a certain moment while I sat there in the comfy recliners (most main theaters in Madison have swapped to this style of bigger chairs and reserved seating – I don’t mind) and recalled, with technical wonder zipping by in front of me, that Harrison Ford was supposed to be in this movie. The film had been playing for a while by this point, longer than some entire movies and far more than most go before introducing their main plot twist, let alone a major character.
What’s more important, though – I didn’t care.
There’s a phrase, coined by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “suspension of disbelief”.
Often, we use those words to describe how we have to silence our niggling inner selves when watching, reading, or taking in most stories of any kind. Looking for fallacies in entertainment is likely to ruin it. However, the entertainment must also make its contract with the audience – namely, it’s not going to waste your time with one implausible event after another. It’s going to earn that suspension.
Blade Runner 2049 earns it. And it does so by not rushing you through its universe. There’s audacity behind the shots, the scenes, the methodical introduction to all the various facets that have made this story’s world what it is. You feel the dystopia. The constant rain and haze, the prevalence of things both real and virtual designed to take you away from the dreary place. Little touches jar you ever so slightly – a farmer describing garlic to someone who hasn’t experienced it, the people hanging in an apartment stairwell with nothing better to do, the massive corporate ads blasting through windows – all of these act as helping hands to get you to buy into the Blade Runner universe.
So when the action picks up, though Blade Runner 2049, like its predecessor, is more about moments of heavy action than long sequences of violence, you’re invested. You understand the world, the stakes, and why those within it do what they do.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t weaknesses – the villains, especially, lack much depth. They’re blandly characterized in techno-villain style; crusaders with an ends-justify-the-means ethos. It’s never really explained why they have to be so brutal in their pursuit, but then, they’re not the stars of the show.
Gosling’s character acts as the lens for us, and it’s a reserved one. A character that rarely lets emotion come to the surface, much like the world he inhabits. At first, it feels similar to his character in Drive – a person more often quiet than not, willing to do what needs doing and damn the consequences. But there are cracks in that facade that widen as the story gets told. Cracks that ultimately bring their own power to the central question of the Blade Runner films – are replicants and humans truly different?
Whatever the answer , Blade Runner 2049 is worth your time. Preferably in a dark room or theater, where the atmosphere can build over its nearly 3 hour runtime and you find yourself utterly within the grips of its world.