This long-awaited follow-up to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 original not only lives up to lofty expectations thrust upon it but makes for one of the most ambitious, provocative, visually arresting and achingly philosophical blockbusters in an age.

It takes place three decades hence from the original timeline; a 2049 Los Angeles futuristic in technology yet feels of a time gone by, like we’re taking a giant leap forward into the past of a relic given a premium upgrade. Blade Runners - the name given to those sent to hunt down the artificially created humans known as replicants — are still very much a crucial part of society.

“K” (Ryan Gosling) is one such Blade Runner tasked with finding old replicant models that are less obedient than the new ones. When his latest mission uncovers a secret about the nature of humans and replicants, he is tasked by his boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) with hunting down the key to avoiding a potential war, an assignment which leads him to the long-missing former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

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With a succession of masterful films including Prisoners, Enemy and most recently Arrival, Denis Villeneuve has established himself as perhaps the most accomplished cinematic storyteller of our time and this is no exception. His vision of this lived-in future society is breathtaking to behold, utilising the jaw-dropping cinematography by the peerless Roger Deakins to envelope the audience in a world that’s at once enthralling and dangerous, daunting and immersive, unearthly and yet entirely authentic on its own terms.

The towering, illuminated cityscapes adorned once more with gigantic company logos like Sony and Atari, bustling streets alive with energy yet strangely distant, Gosling (in a compellingly steely-eyed performance) walking in a distinct coat through aqua-coloured fog, fiery orange dusty landscapes that scorches so much it’s like you can actually feel the heat. It’s all so sumptuously concocted on a purely visual, wholly cinematic way, perfectly exemplifying the transportive power that cinema can possess.

It works beautifully in its own right and is far from being a simple retread of what has made the original so beloved. It boldly confronts the past with the return of Deckard, played wonderfully once again by Ford who gets to probe the woes and wisdom that time has willed upon this once self-assured character. And it certainly takes artistic cues from what came before to make it feel like a satisfying continuation; the futuristically ethereal musical score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the convincing representation of a consumer-driven society where humans exist both in control of, and reliant upon, artificial beings etc. But at the same time exists entirely as its own beautiful behemoth; replicants may fill its world but it’s anything but a cheap replication.

Just as it does on a visual level, Villeneuve’s wondrous piece of neo-noir sci-fi — written by Hampton Fancher (the original Blade Runner) and Michael Green (this year’s Logan) — contemplates big questions cloaked in a hard-boiled mystery where memories haunt and define lives: is the surface level world on top simply all there to existence or is there a soulful undercurrent that feels within our grasp but is always just out of reach? What exactly is human when something can be created that’s almost entirely indistinguishable from the real thing?

This is realised most vividly in K’s so-called relationship with a flickering computerised hologram who takes the form of a beautiful woman (played by Ana de Armas) — a not-so-ridiculous extension of our own relationships with the apps on our phones. Then there are the several eerie confrontations with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the blind and enigmatic technological architect playing god with his slave replicant creations.

As with the best of the sci-fi genre, it reaches for something bigger, makes us think as it electrifies our curiosity levels, ponders as much as it thrills and assaults our intellect as much as our senses. Like the original it feels like something of a milestone and is an absolute marvel to experience.