Thursday, 9 March 2017

T2: Trainspotting (2017) - Movie Review

1997’s Trainspotting, directed by the previously-lauded Danny Boyle, is one of my all-time favourite films. As much as a retooling of A Clockwork Orange as it is a bladed lower-middle class answer to it, it is a pitch-black comedic look at addiction, what it means to be a junkie and how “getting a fix” extends to using people as much as your chosen drug. Through its incredible acting and acknowledgement of the misanthropic tendencies of its main characters, it stands as one of the greatest drug films ever made. The fact that it put both Boyle and lead actor Ewan McGregor on the map is laudable but barely a footnote in comparison to how enthralling it is on its own. You better believe, even knowing what happened with Boyle and writer John Hodge’s last 90’s throwback collaboration, that I was eagerly anticipating this follow-up. With how my scepticism never wanes even in the presence of promising works, let’s see how well this decades-removed continuation turned out.

The plot: Twenty years after Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) fled Scotland with a bag full of stolen money, he returns to his homeland and reconnects with his old “friends” Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner). As they reminisce about their respective pasts and just where their lives have led them, old acquaintance Franco (Robert Carlyle) hears of Mark’s return and, after leaving the prison he has spent the last two decades in, he wants to exact revenge on the man who robbed them of 16 thousand pounds.

The main cast of the original film, save for Kevin McKidd whose character died previously, return for this follow-up… and I am genuinely left speechless. Like I said at the start, the acting in the first film is quite astounding in how it manages to give a certain level of understanding and relatability to some of the lowest low-lifes in the history of cinema. However, as a result of the overall more sombre tone here, the acting manages to far and away surpass the original. McGregor is still charming and made of douchebag as always, but he is taken into the background more so that the others can have their time to shine. And shine they do, as Miller, Bremner and especially Carlyle are phenomenal in their respective roles. Miller’s general disdain for the world is intact, Bremner further blossoms into the most human character of the lot, and Carlyle might go down as one of the best performances of the year as he manages to bring a lot of sympathy to what was once the biggest scumbag in a film chock-full of them.

The original’s soundtrack, a big sloppy kiss to Boyle’s own love for UK garage electronica, has become a classic in its own right for capturing the musical scene of the time. This film does an admirable job of attaining the same goal, bringing in plenty of bangers from Scottish hip-hop outfit Young Fathers, and the use of oldie pop hits adds a lot to the film’s core themes. However, what makes this soundtrack genuinely brilliant is how it includes heaps of little throwbacks to the original’s more iconic songs. It’s not blaring and in your face, but if you keep a sharp ear out, you’ll notice certain sonic motifs will creep into your subconscious to remind you of the good ol’ days. And since we’re talking about music, easily the best/funniest scene here involves music in a sequence that takes the running theme of Scottish cultural identity and wields in a gloriously handled “fuck you” moment. Never have four simple numbers brought so much joy, both in and out of the film’s context.

This film’s place as a sequel, on the surface, is rather spurious. Where the original made its mark with filth and grime and all things uncomfortable and sleazy, this is a lot cleaner looking with more of a psychedelic bent to it in certain scenes. If anything, it feels like a hybrid of Trainspotting and the more recent Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth. Not only that, the more prominent aspects of the original story concerning addiction and general misanthropy are all but vanished here. Any references made to heroin are in passing and the colder mindset towards humanity in general, a hallmark of Boyle and Hodge’s early work, is definitely muted this time around.

And yet, even with all that said, this is just about the most perfect sequel we could have ever gotten to that shit-encrusted classic. I say this because, even with the visual differences, this still feels like an appropriate follow-up. The characters are consistent with the original, except here more time is taken to show the humanity of our returning faces and, ultimately, how time has affected them. Any sequel taking place/being made decades after the original is inherently reminiscent and kind of nostalgic, something that this film takes entirely to heart. Beyond the musical Easter eggs, there’s a lot of throwbacks and in-jokes to the events of the original, with certain events even taking on a greater significance this time around.

And yet, this isn’t one of those sequels where it is imperative that you remember everything about the original, nor does it try to remind you too directly of it. It’s still funny and incredibly sharp, manifested in an update to the original’s famous “Choose life” monologue that McGregor delivers astoundingly well, even without having seen the original. But, if you do remember the original, you’ll probably get just that little bit more out of it through the callbacks and seeing how these characters have aged in the meantime. Hell, the intent of thinking back on the old days runs so thick in this film that it actually takes up a certain metafictional angle which, while also rather layered, still isn’t harmed by this film’s distant from its predecessor. In short, this basically does everything that a sequel should do, while delivering as a solid film in its own right.

All in all, I am seriously impressed with this one. Even without maintaining the grimy veneer of the original or the nastier thematic tones of the work, this builds on notions of age and nostalgia to create what should rightfully go down as the blueprint for how to fulfill Sequel Rule #6 to its fullest potential. The original may still be untouchable in its own way, but between the incredibly funny moments to the incredible acting to the way it handles its own prospect of growing old, this manages to be even better than the original in quite a few respects. What’s more, it’s not even a film you need to have intently studied the original to enjoy; it can add to the experience, but even as a standalone work, this is very enjoyable.

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