When Blade Runner 2049 was first announced in 2011 as being Ridley Scott's next project, the mood in the air was one of scepticism. Blade Runner, one of the 1980's most remarkable films and one that had countless imitators taking influence from its neo-noir visuals, was as about a complete story as any ever told -depending on which version you had watched.

That in itself said something about Blade Runner. The original theatrical release in 1982 -complete with its unintentionally hilarious narration from a bored/drunk Harrison Ford (delete whichever you feel sums up his mood whilst he was recording it) and a tacked on happy ending, both approved by director Ridley Scott- was a work in progress, with neither audiences being completely on board -it was a box office bomb- nor its director and star being completely happy with the final released product. The shoot of the film was, by all accounts, a completely miserable experience for everyone. In the end, Steven Spielberg's E.T. -an amazing film in its own right, though very different in tone- dominated the box office that year. Blade Runner wasn't the only film to bomb with audiences that summer. John Carpenter's remake of The Thing suffered a similar fate.

It wasn't until 1991, with the discovery of the workprint of the film that excised the narration and happy ending that it played more as the picture Scott originally had intended. Less leading the audience and one that let them rationalise the story for themselves -probably why producers Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchino wanted the narration, they felt it didn't play well as the summer blockbuster release they thought was being  made. This then saw an officially sanctioned director’s cut, with minimal involvement from Scott, released back into theatres. 

In 2007, with the rights situation resolved and an upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray release, the studio let Scott finish the film in the way that he had originally intended in the form of his final cut. This incorporated a few continuity corrections and a full restoration of the feature.

Which is to say that of any one of these versions, it would be safe to assume that Blade Runner 2049 would play as a sequel to The Final Cut. In fact, it could be a follow-up to any of them. Denis Villeneuve -entrusted to direct after Scott bailed for the misguided Alien: Covenant- believed in the power of mystery inherent in the movie. A devotee of what Scott had achieved in 1982 and a director on a roll of great films, he seems to realise that the audience owns films like this: the power of imagination and clarity of what the film could be in 2017.

Nostalgia has played an increasing role in how studios build sequels, especially when considering long dormant properties such as Blade Runner. Recent successes such as Jurassic World play a little heavy in reverence for their source material, to the point of feeling too derivative. Others such as the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters felt like a half-way house, too in thrall to Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis's original screenplay but keen to differentiate itself by ditching the 1984 continuity completely.

What Hampton Fancher, the originator of Blade Runner from a film perspective as the first draft adaptor of “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”, and co-writer Michael Green do to avoid that is to re-contextualise the original movie as myth, or passed down legend. The world within the film has moved on without Deckard or Rachael and there are new characters. But it crucially feels like the same world. Ryan Gosling's K does the same job as Ford's Deckard -as the eponymous Blade Runner- but he is different in one crucial perspective. He's completely aware of what he is from before the point that we meet him. He knows that he's a Replicant.

This small change makes an entirely new character, one whom is interacting in a world that's the future of Blade Runner's 1982 vision. No smartphones in this reality, with CRT television sets still in operation. The one thing he does have that we do not is a hologram girlfriend -named Joi. Sure, she's pre-programmed to be loyal and loving and continually points out that K is “special” and that's how we all want to feel. But she is just a simulation of a human being, as is K. The film is taking the themes of the original film -with the question of what a human is- and asks the further question of what it means to be human. What to desire, what construct do we create that gets us through our day-to-day lives? Important questions that make this film more akin to the works of Andrei Tarkovsky -Solaris for example- of the existential Industrialist arthouse movies of Michelangelo Antonioni -Red Desert and L’Avventura to name a couple of his cinema contributions -two men not scared to ask deep philosophical questions of human nature.

Into this comes the question of Rick Deckard. Not the question that was at the heart of the original movie -was this cold replicant hunter actually the very thing he was chasing- though that does play a part, more the question of where he has been for the past thirty years and why. Harrison Ford steps back in to a gruffer Deckard and challenges himself into feeling the character. One sequence deep in the headquarters of the Wallace Corporation, with its shadowy overlord Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), forces him to literally confront his past. It's one of Ford's best performances in what is very much a supporting role.

On the exterior of this interior thinking is one of the boldest looking films of recent times. Cinematographer Roger A. Deakins -a man robbed by the Academy Awards so many times that it feels like a joke- creates a pulsating world of primary colours, clashing electronic neon with cold, isolated landscapes. The lighting echoes the original throughout, without being slavish to it. Villeneuve clearly trusts Deakins and it's a partnership that continues to develop through their collaborations.

Though the box office has been disappointing -as it was in 1982- Blade Runner 2049 represents one of the strongest sequels in recent history. Respectful without remaking and in the hands of a director who clearly loves the world that was created 35 years ago. Though there have been some detractors who feel it's too long and too slow, both of those arguments were levelled at the original too. In an era where strong science fiction writing seems to be making a comeback -Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin and Alex Garland's Ex Machina both spring to mind- Villeneuve has crafted a challenging art blockbuster, one which dares its audience to think and question its own reality. That, in itself, is a minor miracle and something to behold.