The film dazzles when it introduces us to the technology of its dystopia, fixating the audience with innovations that capture the imagination and immediately make sense in the context of its devastated environment. Even more-so than the science, the landscape tells that tale of Earth in 2049. No dialogue is required as we move from a protein farm to the dingy, neon-lit, overcrowded city to an endless wasteland of junk metal and garbage. The sights and sounds convey all the background information that is necessary, eschewing exposition and trusting in the intelligence of the audience.
Unfortunately, by the end of its 2 1/2 hour run time, the story arc of our new main characters is sacrificed on the altar of old ones. The ending of the original Blade Runner is a piece of cinematic perfection due to its emotionally powerful climax followed by a conclusion that's equal parts tragedy, hope and intrigue. 2049 has an uninteresting climax and contains no such intrigue in its final moments; just some unresolved plot threads and a heaping dose of sentimentality.
Like the story, the soundtrack is hit and miss. It often rises to the occasion and provides a powerful and fitting audio accompaniment to the visual feast on screen, but at other times feels overbearing and lacks the subtlety and ethereal quality of Vangelis' original Blade Runner score.
I don't mean to sound overly harsh because I did enjoy this film, especially during its first two acts, but the bar for a sequel to classic cinema is high. Perhaps I'll have a different take upon subsequent viewings, but as I watched the credits roll for the first time, I couldn't escape the thought that the story needed more work to discover its own message and formulate a resolution that reverberated with its many magnificent pieces.
Creative technologies that immerse and delight
Excellent setup that prompts many thoughts / questions
Setting and backstory feel like an authentic continuation of Blade Runner
Thoughtful film making that's more show than tell (most of the time)
Harrison Ford has one really good line
Weak third act
Underdeveloped antagonist (who's not even part of the film's resolution)
Harrison Ford becomes baggage very quickly
The wrong elements become the focus (much like Ghost in the Shell earlier this year)
Soundtrack spiked to gratingly high levels at times
Plot becomes more muddled near the end rather than more clear
Science fiction should never rely on a "miracle" as a plot device
Despite its final act shortcomings, Villeneuve did what few directors could have: make a Blade Runner sequel that did not disgrace the original.