Science-fiction films have been in a pretty dismal place in the past decade or so. Every now and then we get an impressive installment in the genre (like Arrival in 2016, or Edge of Tomorrow in 2014); however, for the most part, the sci-fi films we are getting range from 'just okay' to 'poor'.
The main reason for this (from my personal perspective) is twofold: firstly, all of these films feel pretty much the same. There's no originality, in other words. Secondly, all of these films rely on spectacle, rather than narrative, in a number of ways.
Even directors who have given us important, groundbreaking science-fiction films have fallen into this trap. The Wachowski siblings, who gave us The Matrix in 1999 directed the critically and socially panned Jupiter Ascending in 2015. Ridley Scott, while giving us science-fiction classics, like Alien and Blade Runner, has been very hit or miss recently -- The Martian was very well receieved, both critically and socially, while Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, and Exodus: Gods and Kings have all been panned.
Blade Runner: 2049 is therefore a breath of fresh air in the genre. Denis Villeneuve understands the genre, and the source material, extremely well (as can be seen in the aforementioned film, Arrival.
The original Blade Runner was a hugely influential science-fiction film, pondering about the importance of humanity, forcing its audience to question whether the human characters valued life more than their replicant counterparts -- and, more importantly, if not: why?
Denis Villeneuve, with Blade Runner: 2049, explores this question as well; however -- thankfully -- he doesn't create a carbon copy of the original film, nor does he try to copy its visual aesthetic. He clearly takes inspiration from it, and he pays enough respect to it thanks to Roger Deakins incredible cinematography, but Villeneuve is clearly the director here, not Ridley Scott.
There is also something to be said for the way these narratives are told. The original Blade Runner is a very cynical film. The city it takes place in is teeming with technology that has taken over the humanity of the environment; big billboards sell specific brands, and people wander like ants throughout the neon-lit roads. Harrison Ford spends most of his time in a depressed stupor, drinking away his feelings, and mechanically completing his job 'retiring' replicants.
In contrast, Blade Runner 2049 is an optimistic film as a whole. There are certainly moments of heartbreak, and the aforementioned city still gleams over rain-soaked people; the ads are still present, and this atmosphere of menace is still very present. However, once the credits roll, you don't get this feeling of hopelessness that you get at the end of the first film. Instead, you feel rather hopeful for the characters, for their respective arcs, and for what they may do after the credits roll.
Essentially, Blade Runner 2049 is the kind of science-fiction film we need nowadays. With its profound discussions of humanity and existence, its gorgeous cinematography, its very crisp sound design, and its taut direction, this is a stellar example of how science-fiction can explore themes that are important, philosophically, to real life. It's also a further example of how film -- slowly, methodically, precisely -- can transcend its own medium and meet the criteria required to be considered art.
Blade Runner 2049 is impressive in a number of capacities; however, for filmmakers, filmgoers, and cinephiles, it is going to be most impressive for how well it captures the essence of the original, explores new ideas and themes within the parameters of what Blade Runner originally introduced, and pushes the envelope within its own genre.
In other words, Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of the year, and one of the best science-fiction films ever made. I have no doubt it will be regarded with the same level of respect, and awe, as the original in thirty years time.