Blade Runner came out the week that Prince William was born, and three months after the death of Philip K Dick, on whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the film was based. It all seems a very long time ago, and not just because Hollywood these days is more likely to remake the film altogether rather than mess round with a sequel.

That’s what it did with Total Recall five years ago; the 1990 original was the second film based on the writer’s work. Since then there have been around a dozen, and dozens more (including The Matrix) hugely indebted to the ideas he explored; while on television his alternative history The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon Prime’s flagship programme and Channel 4 is currently showing a series called Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, based on his short stories.

A man who, during his lifetime, practically never earned more than minimum wage from his 44 novels and 121 short stories has, posthumously, been responsible for movie income alone of $1.2 billion – and that’s unadjusted for inflation.

This, for movie producers, is a compelling reason to revisit Blade Runner. The arguments against are that the first film didn’t at first make much money, or even gain much attention – though it was being taught by film schools within a couple of years – and that it is now lauded as a masterpiece.

Blade Runner was so profoundly influential not only for cinema but for design, architecture, fashion and almost any aspect of culture you want to name that dozens of books and academic papers have been produced on it. There’s a 600-page book just on the making of the film. It’s no exaggeration to say the world would, apart from anything else, look completely different if Blade Runner had not been made. A follow-up, one might think, is almost bound to be a disappointment.

With a few notable exceptions – The Godfather, Toy Story, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back – sequels rarely live up to, let alone exceed, the originals. The stand-out examples are Jaws, which invented the summer blockbuster, and Grease, then the most successful film musical ever. About Jaws 2 and Grease 2, the less said the better.

So to the good news: Blade Runner 2049, which opens this weekend, is a triumph. Fans of the original, who feared the worst when they heard a sequel was coming, began to get their hopes up when they heard that the director was to be Denis Villeneuve. His last picture, Arrival, was a terrific and gorgeous-looking adaptation of an excellent story by the author Ted Chiang who, like Dick, uses science fiction as a means to explore profound and philosophically interesting ideas.

This too, is a very clever film. The current obsession with not revealing “spoilers” is absurd for any review, because discussing the subject is the point of reviewing. But it’s possible to have some sympathy with it in this case. Fans naturally want to know whether the almost endless theories and questions posed by the original (and the fact that there have been several slightly different versions of it) get answered, but they don’t want to know until they see the film.

The cleverest thing about the new film is that it does tell us what happened next, but the answer poses as many questions, and is likely to provoke as much debate, as the original film did. It draws on the concerns of its predecessor: How can we be sure what’s real? What does it mean to be human? What dreams do we share, and are they achievable? How do we shape technology and the environment (and how do they shape us).

And it does that very boldly; some of the deliberate ambiguities of the first film, which might simply have been rehashed, are quite explicitly dealt with almost at once. And yet – because nothing is ever quite what it seems – as the new Blade Runner K investigates a case which leads him to his predecessor Deckard, those answers seem not quite as clear-cut as all that.

There are brilliantly adroit twists in the plot and a resolution that seems entirely satisfying. But like its predecessor, the moment you leave the cinema, you realise that the story may well be open to different interpretations. Of course only time will tell, but I strongly suspect this is a film that will not only bear repeated viewings, but which its admirers will want to watch again and again.

The look of Blade Runner 2049, like the intelligence of the story, has been retained but transformed. The production design is wonderful; it is clearly the same world, but it has changed as much since the fictional 2019 as our (only apparently real) 2017 has from 1982. And the great Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for Best Cinematography 13 times but never won, must surely at last get his Oscar for this.

The cast, too, is terrific. Ryan Gosling as K is a first-rate replacement for Harrison Ford’s Deckard, and his anxieties about his identity and his emotional involvement with others explore different parts of the same psychological territory, just as the story takes us out of the future Los Angeles on to new ground.

I suppose that it would be possible to watch the film without having seen the original, though it is difficult to judge that if you’re very familiar with the first picture. You’ll certainly have a deeper appreciation for this film if, as you should have done, you have watched Blade Runner, several times and in several versions (though the “Final Cut” is the one you probably settled on). If you haven’t, get on with it, because you will want to see this film on the biggest screen you can, and you’ll almost certainly want to see it more than once.