Nothing can match the magic of seeing a classic film for the first time. And expectations for a Blade Runner sequel were further dampened by the fact that 35 years have passed since the release of the original film.
Talk about long-awaited. So prepare to be astonished as, against all the odds, Blade Runner 2049 is a majestic, uncompromising science-fiction epic that stands shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor as a film of wondrous images and thought-provoking reflections on what it means to be human.
Director Denis Villeneuve should be heaped with praise for creating a sombre, soulful blockbuster that takes it own sweet time to ponder and provoke rather than bludgeoning us over the head with special effects and mindless thrills.
Harrison Ford starred in Blade Runner as Rick Deckard, a 21st-century detective hunting down errant replicants: genetically engineered robots designed to be as human as possible.
Villeneuve is lucky enough to have Ford back on board to play Deckard and form the connecting tissue between the two films. Set 30 years after Blade Runner, the sequel unfolds in a desolate, densely populated Los Angeles.
In this neon-lit future, technology dominates and humanity is in crisis: water is a precious commodity and vast areas have been transformed into junkyards.
The prevailing colour is a misty amber. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has 13 Oscar nominations to his name but his work here in crowded cities and barren deserts deserves to make him an Oscar winner at last.
Ryan Gosling’s police officer KD6-3.7 is now the “blade runner” eliminating illegal first-generation replicants who are still on the run. K is a high-tech replicant with a virtual reality girlfriend in the shape of Joi (Ana de Armas).
He is also the ultimate outsider who operates in a no man’s land between the disdain of humans and the resentment of replicants who consider him a traitor to their kind.
In many respects he is a 21st-century slave, his progress closely monitored by his tough boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) and sinister scientist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who seems determined to establish himself as God in this brave new world.
Gosling gives K a steely, implacable manner but his sense of certainty is slowly undermined by a shocking discovery that has profound consequences for the future of relations between androids and humans.
He subtly conveys the first stirrings of curiosity about who he really is and where he fits in on this broken planet.
Gathering evidence and following leads like a dogged detective from the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel, K is inevitably propelled towards a meeting with Deckard. Blade Runner 2049 demands a lot from the audience, not least patience with its measured pace and a running time that nudges three hours.
The reward is a film so beautiful that it demands to be seen on a huge Imax screen for its full visual impact.
The stunning images are matched by a story full of mystery, madness and outstanding performances from Gosling and Ford. Could this be that rare sequel that eclipses the original?