Set 30 years after the events of Ridley Scott's cult classic sci-fi noir Blade Runner, Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 aims to expand the world established by the original while also continuing the story of replicant hunter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Our lead this time is K (Ryan Gosling), an advanced, more obedient type of replicant who also works as a Blade Runner, hunting down older models who are hiding all over Los Angeles. After taking down one of them, a farmer played by a criminally underused Dave Bautista, K finds the remains of another replicant buried nearby and an investigation is opened. This new development piques the interest of the mysterious Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the creator of all new replicants. The investigation leads us back to Rick Deckard, who turns out to be the key to this whole mess. Meanwhile, K's relationship with hologram girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) goes weird places and a prostitute is tasked by someone to place a tracker on him. On paper, this is a solid plot with lots of potential as seeing a replicant hunt down older ones while growing a soul in the process and questioning the validity of his artificial attachments sounds very much in the vein of the original film and in the spirit of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Joi being K's "sheep" in this case.
Instead of focusing on the core of the story like the original film did, however, this sequel is mostly preoccupied with throwing twists at us in the hope of recapturing the impact of The Director's Cut's ending more than once. Unfortunately, this only serves to make the story needlessly convoluted, the pacing ridiculously slow and the inevitable encounter with Deckard relegated to the last half hour. The film not only introduces the rather silly idea of pregnant replicants but doubles down on it by attempting to rewrite the original film, as if this was always Tyrell's evil plan somehow. If Rick Deckard being a replicant was already going against Philip K. Dick's wishes then this would have probably made his head explode. The film seems to think that we should care about one of the characters meeting their child despite the fact this was never anyone's goal and we barely spent any time with either character. The resolution of K's character arc is done quite well but undermined by a twist that feels hollow and very much in the "who cares?" category.
As K, Ryan Gosling delivers the same purposely wooden performance he did in (better) films like Drive and Only God Forgives. This makes it genuinely tough to care about a character who only has one short, and rather amusing, emotional outburst in the whole film. So when we're meant to think he's grown a soul, that falls flat because at that point he has nothing to live for so whether he makes one decision or the other, it's mostly irrelevant. When Roy Batty saves Deckard at the end of Blade Runner, he knows he's dying no matter what but he decides to teach the cop a lesson by showing him that he is, in fact, more human than human. What does K have to prove to Deckard or anyone else? Again: who cares? Every character's motivations are unclear in this movie which makes it a frustrating watch as there is no weight to anyone's actions. Parts of the story feel more like shoehorned-in setups for a sequel than anything having to do with the story at hand so the third act drags and crawls to an unsatisfying climax.
Director Denis Villeneuve does a decent job at making his film look and sound as much as a Blade Runner film as possible. His sequel is set in a very different yet familiar futuristic Los Angeles and we even get to see some of the surrounding areas. For all the effort put into the cinematography and art direction, however, there is something missing about this movie visually when compared to the 1982 classic or its frankly stunning Final Cut. This is partly due to the lighting making most shots look far more clinical than they should be but also due to the way in which the story is actually filmed. Ridley Scott's original was dream-like, a retro dystopia halfway between Heaven and Hell with Vangelis' masterful score underlining the still beautiful visuals perfectly. This sequel looks decent but nothing about it stands out or truly captures the surreal quality that the original somehow created: think Alien 3 compared to Alien. And the less said about CGI Sean Young the better, an effect about as convincing as Princess Leia at the end of Star Wars: Rogue One.
While not quite the disaster that the Total Recall remake was as Blade Runner 2049 does have some redeeming qualities, this is still an inferior, confused and dull reboot that's both pretty to look at and thoroughly underwhelming. This needed more fleshed-out characters, a grittier, more memorable look, a shorter running time, lots more editing and a better story altogether.