Director Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival", "Sicario") and the Warner Brother Studio requested that film critics refrain from divulging much of the plot - as the film is actually one big surprise after another. For once, I tend to agree that every viewer needs to experience this stunning sequel firsthand with few prior clues. Discovery, is the fundamental element of this exceptional film.


Skimming the surface I could easily just say, "Boy, is this a damned great film!" That would nearly suffice. I would easily put it in the top five of all sequels challenging the likes of "Godfather 2", "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back", "Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn", "Goldfinger" and "Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade"...never mind that two of those also starred Harrison Ford.


The original "Blade Runner" takes place in the year 2019 and asked a multitude of existential questions concerning the concept of manufacturing nearly perfect artificial intelligence that develops the not only self awareness, but also self preservation. The replicants, as they were called had a programmed life expectancy that they fought like Dickens to disconnect. That's where the blade runner force came into play, to whack the rogue replicants.

Instead of trying to answer some of the questions left from the original, Villeneuve expands the concept - expands the dystopian future - with questions about what is real and what isn't. It goes beyond whether robots dream of electric sheep to challenging what we know as reality. Yes, it stirs up the questions that "The Matrix" posed.


The blade runner this time is K (Ryan Gosling) who has excepted that the majority of his life has been programmed. He has excepted the virtual world even going so far as to having a holographic gal pal Joi (Ana de Armas) who comes in and out accompanied by Peter and the Wolf. She is the visualized version of Samantha from "Her"; a really souped up computer program.


K's boss is Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), who from her iciness feels more like a machine. She barks her directives and he follows them. After every killing, she tests him to make sure he hasn't formed any emotional conscience.

After an encounter with Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), K learns there might be baby replicants; a replicant mated with a human and somehow reproduced. It may be the work of a big time industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) a super biologist who has taken over the old company and created his own imaginary world filled with lots or realistic flora. In any case, it will be the first time K has needed to kill someting that was actually born and not created.


To solve this problem, K decides to track down the one person he thinks can help him, the old blade runner Decker (Ford) who has been missing for 30-years. He finds Decker holed up in an abandoned casino filled with holograms of ancient performers like Frank Sinatra.


Up to this point, the narrative is thorough but slow. Leave it to Harrison Ford - even at the age of 75 - to amp up the action; even if it is the grumpy old man type of action. Decker is not interested in going gently into that good night. He's not happy to see K just as he wasn't happy to Jedi wannabes in the last Star Wars.


It is at this point when existential concepts move to the front and we are faced with even more profound questions than the original. What exactly is real? Who is real?


Original screenwriter Hampton Fancher returns to join writer Michael Green ("Logan", "Alien: Covenant") to bring things up to date. But you'll be captivated by Roger Deakins cinematography - he's been previously nominated thirteen times for "No Country For Old Men", "Sicario", "Fargo", "Skyfall" and others - maybe he'll win this time. The visuals are absolutely amazing.


Ford is not used a lot, but earns the right amount of screen time. The film belongs to Gosling who was edged out in 2016's "La La Land" but may find himself in the winners circle this year.


"Blade Runner 2049" is quite simply one of the best films of 2017 and easily one of the best sequels ever made. Period. Everyone from Ryan Gosling down to Sylvia Hoeks are perfectly cast and perfectly developed. The visuals are more amazing than the original.   -- GEOFF BURTON