The role of “K” presents a real challenge for Gosling, who has to engage us with a character who is, by design, emotionless for most of his screen time. Gosling calls upon his deep reserve of offhand charisma and quiet cool, and pulls it off. Ford (who appears much later than you’re probably expecting) is wildly effective, a haunted and tortured presence, full of cynical axioms like “Sometimes to love someone… you’ve got to be a stranger.” But the look on his face in his last scene, well, that’s the good stuff, folks.
Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t really look or feel like Ridley Scott’s original, and that’s wise – people have been ripping it off for years, usually poorly. Dennis Gassner’s production design complements the iconic rainy metropolis with snowy, wintery cityscapes and barren deserts, and each of them is just comically well-photographed by cinematographer Roger Deakins; frame after frame is simply jaw-dropping. (It’s the first movie since Road to Perdition that legitimately made me feel bad for other cinematographers.) And the aggressiveness of the sound design – particularly Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer’s music – helps underscore the scary efficiency of the brutality.
But there’s frankly not much of that. The picture’s most surprising stretches are its genuinely emotional portraiture of solitude and loneliness; a healthy chunk of its first half-hour is a sort of extended haiku on authenticity and companionship between K and his virtual girlfriend (shades of Gosling’s earlier Lars and the Real Girl), and while it works, it’s a truly unexpected place for Villeneuve to go so early.
Yet that’s the movie, brazenly peculiar and potentially alienating, unafraid to go off on all sorts of odd variations. It occasionally stumbles; it’s so solemn that it ends up twisting around and risking silliness, and yes, at 163 minutes, it could probably be shorter. There are points at which Villeneuve seems to sacrifice narrative momentum to pursue a cool idea, scene, or even image. But when the results are both this challenging and stylish, who’s complaining?
It’s sort of thrilling, frankly, that what could’ve been an exercise in IP maintenance takes this many chances. In most ways, it’s more a Denis Villeneuve movie than a Blade Runner sequel; for some, that’ll be an endorsement, and for others, a warning. (Act accordingly.) But it does something sci-fi movies rarely do anymore, and sequels do even less: it shows us things we’ve never seen.
“Blade Runner 2049” is out Friday.