An experience that really should be seen on a big-screen, even if it appears a lot of audiences are taking a pass on doing so…
What Works: I was pretty much dead-against a sequel to “Blade Runner” (the director’s cut of which has one of the most debated endings of all time), and even if “Arrival” director Dennis Villeuneuve doesn’t entirely disappear those concerns—to me, it’s obvious by this sequel whether Harrison Ford’s Deckard is meant to be a replicant or not whereas it wasn’t in the original—this is about as good a movie as one can possibly hope for if you’re making a long-awaited sequel nobody was really awaiting. [I don’t think most “Blade Runner” fans really expected or even wanted a sequel, which may also explain the sluggish box office.] The massive sets are exquisite and a relief from overly CGI-ed sci-fi, the movie’s set pieces work well (including a surprisingly affecting romance between a virtual reality “girlfriend” and a replicant), and the performances are uniformly solid.
To me, Gosling has two modes: wise-cracking romantic (“LaLa Land,” “Crazy Stupid Love,” “The Nice Guys”) that works really well and stoic action hero mode (“Drive,” “Only God Forgives”) that can sometimes read like he’s sleep-walking. “Blade Runner 2049” disguises the weaknesses in the latter since he’s playing a character that’s supposed to be wooden, and Harrison Ford proves once again—after being the best thing in “The Force Awakens”—he’s ready for a major comeback, having barely lost a step over the decades. And relative newcomers like “Halt and Catch Fire”‘s terrific Mackenzie Davis, the believably scary Sylvia Hoeks, and warm Ana De Armas shine as different types of machines.
What Doesn’t: I didn’t fully understand Jared Leto’s motivation. He’s supposedly the film’s villain—and certainly looks menacing—but his end goal of finding the “born” replicant and the secret to replicant pregnancies seems similar to what the replicant uprising wants. I guess technically his aims are more to expand a slavery empire and theirs is for freedom, but the movie is a little vague in Leto’s scenes. And the question of “What makes robots human?” has been well-explored in other sci-fi films that I’m not sure this one really adds much to.
What I Would Have Done Differently: Ultimately, I’m glad I got to see this movie and somewhat glad it was made. And if I were thinking about seeing this, I would see it in a theater since this is one of those “Gravity” or “Interstellar” epic canvas, experiential sci-fi films that works best on a big-screen.