Sunday, April 9, 2017

Review: "T2 Transpotting" is a Fun Return to a Deranged World

Scene from T2 Transpotting
A lot has changed since Trainspotting was released in 1996. In director Danny Boyle's career, he has had three Oscar nominations, including one win for Best Director (Slumdog Millionaire). He directed the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. Jonny Lee Miller is now Sherlock Holmes in Elementary. Even Ewan McGregor became Obi-Wan Kenobi in a few Star Wars movies. To say the least, the rough and tumble gang of Scottish drug addicts had quite a career ahead of them. It makes sense then why it was so hard for Boyle to bring the cast back together for a sequel to the breakout indie hit. To say the least, it's a miracle that everyone managed to show up. It's even more surprising then that the performances are great - it's the writing that unfortunately takes some of the good will out of the nostalgically named T2 Trainspotting.

Whereas the original was a story of how hardcore drugs were dangerous, T2 chooses to shuffle its focus onto nostalgia. It's an aspect that comes quickly as the film opens on Renton (McGregor) exercising at a gym. Much like his introduction 21 years ago, he is running. However, he seems to be aimless in his direction, staring at a mirror as he recalls the past that took him away from the Scottish slums. Of course, there's the reality that he robbed his best friends in the process. Still, nostalgia draws him back and he quickly discovers how much has changed, which is little. Spud (Ewen Bremmer) is a relapsed addict who Renton finds on the edge of suicide. Sick Boy (Miller) works at a pub and uses cocaine to get him through the day. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still a neurotic ball of aggression who manages to break out of prison in an elaborate way. Their relationship with Renton differs, but mostly has frustration of the man who ditched them for the good life in Amsterdam. It's a reunion full of hostility, hallucinations, and petty theft. Just like old times.

One of the early signs of Boyle's insecurity with returning to this world comes in each characters' introduction. With stylized subtitles, he displays each characters unintelligible Scottish lingo in the background, as if advertising the gibberish that made author Irvine Welsh's writing initially so compelling. It helps newbies get used to this world, which will feature hundreds of lines requiring close attention. They won't all make sense, but it is part of the integrity of these characters, who have literally aged, but whose charisma remains largely in tact. Renton is especially more complex, giving a mixed performance of sober life, remorse for his errors, and a desire to return to his flawed past. He is the sane one who reveals the tragedy of every other character. At least, that's how he is at the start.

The issue with T2 isn't so much in the characters, but the writing. Much like several other franchise movies in the past few years, it has nostalgia on the brain. It not only wants to remind you of the first movie, but the power that being young and reckless had. It's not a terrible core for a movie, especially one whose predecessor thrived on aimlessness. However, Boyle has evolved as a filmmaker far beyond a competency that made his sophomore film so iconic. As much as the film thrives in showing how Scotland has changed into a modernized and corporate landscape (not to mention reliance on social media), it stumbles over its own lovefest when it asks to look at its own past. It visits many familiar sets from the first film, and it is shown through archival footage. The editing is clever, but it eventually goes from a clever artistic choice to a pointless gallery of the past. It asks the viewer to remember the first movie so often that it makes one want to just watch the blasted thing instead.

It's a shame that T2 suffers from this because otherwise it has all of its bearings together. It avoids many of the pitfalls of decades overdue sequels and has the heart and energy (not to mention original cast and crew) to be an entertaining romp. It's vulgar in a new yet realistic way. It shows complexity that feels authentic, even downright tragic. Still, the film's biggest flaws come when it wishes to say bon voyage and introduces a needless Begbie plot that could've been cut down for better effect. The film's tone drastically shifts, slowing down the anarchic pacing for a haunting film that feels odd given how strong the first 90 minutes tended to be. Even then, Boyle's reliance on stylish effects dampen the film even more, taking away the raw tone and style that made the original so effective. By the end, the message may be caustic but suggests that living in the past isn't so bad. With a familiar setting and a remix of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life," the film fades into the credits, and ends the years long struggle to get the film made. Was it worth it? Maybe with better writing: a fact that is itself ironic given that writer John Hodge got Trainspotting's sole Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and likely won't be repeating that success here.

T2 Transpotting is a mixed bag at best. The film proves the power of a great cast can overcome some misguided decisions. Even then, there's some unfortunate side effects when the filmmaker forms a style that isolates the sequel from its original. Even the necessary Europop soundtrack feels less iconic than it should. This may not quite be the sequel that was worth a 21 year wait, but it is encouraging to know that every performer gave their all to make it the best that they could. It's worth seeing for Trainspotting fans who are really curious what Renton and the boys have been up to. Boyle at least lets the depressing subtext play out beautifully. However, it still feels like a film that would've benefited from an angrier, younger voice. In spite of that, it's still good. That may be the greatest miracle of all. It's just unfortunate that it lacks a single moment that pops as memorably as the opening minutes of the original. 

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