T2: TRAINSPOTTING ½
2017, R, 117 mins.
Ewan McGregor as Mark Renton / Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy / Ewen Bremner as Spud / Robert Carlyle as Francis Begbie / Anjela Nedyalkova as Nikki / Kelly MacDonald as Diane / Shirley Henderson as Gail
Directed by Danny Boyle / Written by John Hodge, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh
original TRAINSPOTTING, make no mistake about it, was a seminal film of
the 1990's and one that had an immediate and seismic impact on the movie
pop culture of its decade. Danny
Boyle's multiple Oscar nominated drug infused black comedy not only helped
cement its director as a unique new filmmaking maverick with an ultra
intense kinetic and hallucinatory aesthetic, but it also established
its star Ewan McGregor as a future Hollywood A-lister.
Of course, it was the whole film's breakneck and breathlessly
caffeinated stylistic trappings that struck a massive chord with audiences;
person I knew in college had this film's poster on their dorm room walls
back in the day.
Here's the thing,
though, that may offend devotees of Boyle's 1996 effort: I remember the
film's reckless free-wheeling energy and a handful of its iconic scenes
more than the entire film as a whole itself.
Perhaps that was much of the point in adapting the novel of the
same name by Irvine Welsh: to capture the heroin-fuelled obsessions of its
main characters. So, on a level of haunting dreamlike visuals,
TRAINSPOTTING was unlike anything I saw at the time.
But I also remember not finding myself emotionally attached to the
film or any of its characters, not to mention that, when it boils right
down to it, it felt aimlessly plotted.
The thought of Boyle and his original cast re-teaming for a long
gestating sequel - also loosely based on Welsh's own sequel novel PORNO -
was greeted with mixed emotions by me.
Nostalgia can be an exceedingly tricky force when it comes to the
movies; a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING would either just monotonously rehash
the original wholesale and give fans what they want or it would take its characters and story into fresh new directions.
shakingly odd titled T2: TRAINSPOTTING (is this an unused sequel name for
franchise?) tries to regrettably have it both ways, which I think
does the film a pretty massive disservice.
On one level, it's a somewhat compellingly rendered postscript to
the lives of all of its Edinburgh hooligans and criminal thugs presented
in the initial film, so revisiting these young lowlifes two decades later
is ripe for dramatic and comedic possibilities.
As a sobering meditation of aging and how that inalterably affects
people, T2: TRAINSPOTTING is a hypnotic watch.
On the other hand, though, Boyle (once again returning behind the
director's chair) seems to spend an inordinate amount of time making
call-backs to the first film to the point of redundancy.
That, and the overall screenplay here is just as, if not more,
shapeless and meandering than its predecessor, which made it awfully hard
to care about any of its stakes. There were multiple times during the course of the film when
I struggled to comprehend what Boyle was ultimately trying to tell us
about his characters and how time has altered them.
The subversive grittiness, remarkably attuned performances, and
directorial flamboyance of the first film are well on display here, but
beyond that T2: TRAINSPOTTING is a pretty hollow experience.
In case you
forgot the ending to TRAINSPOTTING, it concluded with Mark "Rent
Boy" Renton (McGregor) betraying his BFFs during a heroin sting,
which lead to him taking the money for himself and escaping out of the
city. As T2: TRAINSPOTTING
opens we are introduced to the unusual sight of a longer haired and
apparently healthier Mark working out in an Amsterdam gym, but any hint
that he's a pillar of physical fitness that has put his sordid past behind
him comes crashing down when he passes out while on his treadmill.
Of course, this mostly underwritten opening section just serves as
a prelude to Mark making a fateful return to his old stomping grounds in
Scotland to have chance meetings with his former friends that he double
When back in
Edinburgh Mark reacquaints himself back with Spud (James Cosmos) during an
eerie, but oddly funny moment that involves a botched suicide attempt by
the former. Even though Spud
is angered by Mark's intrusion on his life - and potential ending of his
life - Mark nevertheless yearns to set him back on a right path well away
from past chemical addictions. Less rosy is Mark's reunion with "Sick Boy" Simon (Jonny Lee Miller),
which initially erupts into fisticuffs.
Simon still dabbles in drugs, which he funds via incredibly
convoluted blackmail schemes that involves his girlfriend (Anjela
Nedyalkova) seducing prominent rich men into bed and then filming it.
Lastly, there's Begbie (Robert Carlyle), the most dangerous man of
the former group of pals that ended up going to prison after the events of
the last film...and he seriously has developed a level of deeply rooted
hatred for Mark. After a
parole hearing goes south, Begbie decides to break himself out of prison
and, wouldn't you know it, has a chance rendezvous with Mark, Spud and
Simon. Being a volatile sociopath, Begbe is the least congenial upon
meeting back up with Mark and forgiving him for his past duplicity.
is always an engaging film because of its strong performance assets and
all of the aforementioned actors have seemingly not missed a beat in
returning to the roles they made popular two decades ago.
It's always intriguing to see actors that have matured over the
passage of time return to roles that launched their careers, and its that
very potent passage of time and seeing these men inhabit these blokes as
much older and broken down men that gives T2: TRAINSPOTTING an enthralling
aura. This sequel does have a
few echoes of the original that will undoubtedly put rather large all
knowing smiles of viewers' faces, like, for instance, seeing Mark
occupying a deplorably filthy bathroom and a very late scene that has him
jiggling to Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life," the most iconic song
that laced the 1996's film's soundtrack.
Admittedly, I did smile a lot
during T2: TRAINSPOTTING, but I had great difficulty embracing this new
story, which kept me grimacing at a frustrating arm's distance.
The script is essentially a very thinly assembled group of
vignettes in search of a larger cohesive narrative, one that has Mark,
more often than not, just stumbling between all of his former friends and
finding himself getting re-involved in their current states of distress.
Some characters - especially female ones - get terribly
marginalized here, especially Simon's girlfriend, who's not really
altogether fleshed out as a developed person and more or less is in the
film for the purposes of serving as a plot driving mechanism.
Then there's a cameo by Kelly MacDonald - who played an underage
party girl in the last film - that's in this sequel so frustratingly
little that you're left wondering why she's even in it.
We learn that she has long since abandoned he former frat girl ways
and has become a well-to-do corporate lawyer, which would have been an
enticing through line for the plot if it afforded her more screen time and
hyperactive and boisterous visual flourishes were cutting edge and
audacious years ago, but I've been in the minority in finding his style to
be insufferable to experience at times in many of his post-TRAINSPOTTING
films (his most recent effort, STEVE JOBS,
was one of his best films because of how atypically lean and economical
his direction was in it). In
T2: TRAINSPOTTING Boyle goes back to the well and splatters the screen
with flashy and chaotic imagery, but it rarely feels as fresh and novel as it
did in 1996. If anything,
Boyle's intense predilection to re-appropriating his once
lighting-in-a-bottle artistic flair seems to distract away from the film's
more meaningful themes and narrative undercurrents.
T2: TRAINSPOTTING frequently works as an intoxicating odyssey of
trippy imagery, but it's undone by a lopsided script that's lacking in
satisfying follow-through. Aside
from a pitch perfectly rendered final moment in the film that's like an
overdose on giddy nostalgia, Boyle's treatment of the material here rarely
commanded my interest.
Maybe that's the
ultimate problem with long awaited sequels to cult classics...and
cinematic nostalgia in general. T2:
TRAINSPOTTING offers up ample fan servicing for those most devoted die
hards of its decades old prequel, but it never successfully stands fully
and proudly apart from the mighty big shadow that it casts.
Again, I will never confess to be a "lover" of the
original TRAINSPOTTING, but it was an unmistakable jolt of electricity
driven straight to the heart of the film world at a time that desperately
required it. And it was a
daring artistic original that went places few films of its era did.
No question. Regrettable,
T2: TRAINSPOTTING seems trapped inside a hermetically sealed bubble of
conjuring up yesterday instead of bursting out of that shell and daring to
be its very own subversive original today.