There is absolutely no way this film would ever match the timeless perfection of the photography in "Wings of Desire". The black and white segments, in fact, stand out for this very reason: by comparison they are amateurishly point-and-shoot. The film wisely sidesteps the issue, however, by having the vast majority of it take place in beautiful, vibrant color. This time around it is Cassiel who chooses to fall and experience mortal life, and he does it rather early on, but things do not work out quite as well for him as they did for Damiel.
The film is very different from its predecessor. While "Wings..." was an episodic, meandering mood piece this picture is more straightforward and linear in structure (though still meandering and episodic at times). It's tone, curiously, is also different and somewhat all over the place. "Wings..." was somber, melancholy, it wore the oppressive weight of time as a burden, and only in the end was the veil lifted. "Faraway..." is goofier, more willing to play. It clearly does not take us human beings as seriously as we do. Sequences of potential danger, for instance (the close-call with the armed thugs comes to mind) are handled with tongue firmly planted in cheek. If "Wings..." argued for the ethereal beauty of the simple pleasures (drinking coffee, feeling cold on the tips of one's fingertips, conversation) then "Faraway..." argues for the overall kookiness of day-to-day existence. It shifts in tone quite a few times and its ending is, again, a metaphor.
Most of the regular cast from "Wings.." return, with quite a few additions. Nastassja Kinski, whose presence is always appreciated, appears as Raphaela, an angel who is particularly close to Cassiel. She is stunning, and was born to play an angel. Mikhail Gorbachev makes a self serving cameo that does nothing but call attention to itself. Lou Reed, in a role similar to that of Nick Cave in the first, certainly fits into this universe perfectly and actually has some dialogue to boot. The main addition in terms of the film is Willem Dafoe as a devil-like creature capable of talking to both humans and angels alike. His presence is, in many ways, key though it can also be as goofy as the next.
Was I disappointed by the film? I...suppose. It is by no means a bad flm. It is a good film, a very good film even which, upon repeated viewings, I may grow to consider a great one but I fell in love, hard, with "Wings of Desire" and the radical tonal shift threw me for a loop. The other film may have been heavily improvised but it seemed nothing less than precise, measured. This one feels self serving at times, pretentious at others (and it so hurts me to use that word), like everything including the kitchen sink was thrown in. It works, often very well, but the memory of "Wings..." was too heavy in my mind for me to be able to appreciate it on its own terms.