Sequels are nothing new in Hollywood, and there’s no one genre that’s above sequalizing a successful film to death. What’s a little new is the idea of making a sequel to a landmark film (for one reason or another) so very long after that film came out. Notable examples are TRON: Legacy, made 26 years following TRON, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, made 23 years following Wall Street. Sequels to Top Gun, Twins, and Beetlejuice are also in the offing — if they ever come to fruition, that is, and as of right now, all of them will come more than thirty years following their originals.
We all know sequels are hardly ever patches on their originals. What makes the execution of these very delayed sequels so daunting is not only do they have to overcome the sequel curse, but they have to find a way to at least feel like their predecessor — that is, if filmmakers are doing their jobs. Under the right circumstances, and with the same filmmakers returning (the Dark Knight trilogy, for instance), this can sometimes happen. But it’s rare.
Blade Runner 2049, a thirty-year sequel to an original film that suffered an extremely troubled release history (there are five different cuts — seven if you count the bootlegs), somehow manages to both pack the same visual and emotional experience, but also feel like a natural extension of that universe. Blade Runner 2049, as directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) and thankfully only produced by Ridley Scott (much respect to the Sir, but Alien: Covenant proves he needs to stay away from his old franchises), is every bit as stylish, intriguing, bleak, sad, and challenging as the original — a film once initially dismissed before gaining cult status, and before being rightfully hailed as the visionary piece of filmmaking that it is.
From a purist’s point of view, what makes Blade Runner 2049 such a fulfilling experience is that this isn’t solely a reboot masquerading as a sequel — not one of those situations where audiences won’t be confused if they hadn’t seen the original. Sure, they could probably put the pieces together, but going into Blade Runner 2049 utterly blind would absolutely ruin the emotional impact toward which it’s striving. Co-writer from the original Hampton Fancher returns after a long time away from script writing, his last feature being 1999’s The Minus Man; working alongside Michael Green (Logan), he fleshes out a new story every bit as complicated and philosophical, and most importantly, worthy. Again, for delayed sequels like these, having the original director return in some capacity isn’t outside of normal, but for the original writer to return — that almost never happens. The best aspect of the script is the careful execution of two surprises — one which snowballs into the next, and neither of which you see coming.
Keeping this fluid transition from original to sequel going is the spot-on musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, taking over for former composer Vangelis (who, I’m sure, would have been asked to return if he hadn’t retired). A somewhat large stink was made when Blade Runner 2049’s original composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, was removed, but if it was done in aid of making room for the score we eventually received, it was absolutely the right move to make. The ambient and electronic score, which is alternately mournful and dreamy, is pure Blade Runner, which also comes to pounding life during more action-oriented sequences. Like many other aspects to this sequel’s success, the musical component was critical, and it’s a victory.
As tends to happen far too often when it comes to films both good and challenging, audiences didn’t turn out for Blade Runner 2049, as they were too likely distracted by something that required less of them, intellectually, in spite of the critical praise it received. No studio ever embarks on such a risky sequel without keeping an eye on the franchise’s future, so ideas for further films in the Blade Runner universe are likely written on cocktail napkins somewhere. Even when assuming those are now in flux, Blade Runner 2049 is an almost flawless new beginning as well as a satisfying end. It’s the shining example of how to make a sequel — especially one so late to the party.