One could argue that 2049 is a worthy sequel to the original Blade Runner in that it is slow, ponderous, and ultimately unsatisfying. It raises the question of what is the point of making this film. It is not closely related enough to the original for it to be really continuing that story but also inexorably ties itself to it, which I think is a mistake. The plot would work just as well with totally new characters and would avoid the awkward hangover of direct comparison.
For example, the character of Deckard is noticeably different in his behaviour. I could try and explain this through the experience of everything he's been through over the years but to be honest, it just feels like lazy writing. One of the things I liked about Deckard was that he was not an action hero; but here he immediately goes into fight mode and holds his own against a far superior technological specimen. It just doesn't make sense and feels like an excuse for a bit of action with no real thought behind it.
Harrison Ford is, to be fair, as dependable as always. Ryan Gosling is wasted in a role that demands limited emotional expression. As for the other cast, Carla Juri is the stand out in a role as a boy-in-the-bubble style prisoner who makes dreams for a living (it makes sense in context) (kind of). The person trying the hardest is, as usual, Jared Leto, who doesn't seem to have worked out that less can sometimes be more. Not every character needs to be eccentric. And I say that as one of the few people who actually liked what he did with The Joker. Poor bloke, people just don't seem to like him.
The cinematography is typically brilliant as you would expect from Roger Deakins but is missing a sense of purpose. Whereas the original felt like someone had got a 17th century artist and taught them how to work on film, this feels like a master cinematographer who knows how to create any lighting effect you might need. It's technically great, but it feels like it's coming from a different place and is lacking an artistic intention.
So what about the theme of the film? What is life? What are the definitions of humanity? Are we determined by our actions, our moral stance, or our pre-determined nature? I'm not exactly demanding answers from the film, but something beyond a superficial examination would be nice. And there is so much more you could play with here. With the advancements in science that have given us much greater knowledge in terms of biological manipulation of genes and DNA, the original Blade Runner now seems well ahead of its time. Replicants in that world are more like robots but advanced in a world of science fiction. Now that the idea of genetically constructed creatures (with patented body parts) is a not too distant reality, this sequel seems strangely out of date because it doesn't really attempt to further this discussion.
The idea of giving the replicants the ability to create life in the “natural” way would seem to be this film's idea of turning the whole life/not life debate on its head but this is only really used as a plot device rather than a philosophical standpoint. The other new “life” in the film comes in the form of Gosling's hologrammatic girlfriend. It seems her only purpose was to make us think that we can have emotional attachment to something that isn't actually alive because it fakes consciousness so well. But in a world where replicants and bioengineered humans are a reality, this seems relatively low-fi and again, never quite makes any real point. Sadly, these elements are never really explored and are mostly used to give Ryan Gosling's character some motivation.
Ultimately, it all makes sense and works as a narrative. There are a few elements that feel like they were being set up for further development in sequels (that aren't going to happen) but the film also functions as closure for Ridley Scott's film. But just like that film, it never quite gets round to making a point, and it spends a long time not getting there.
Shallow and ultimately pointless; 5/10