Adding to the Train of Unnecessary Sequels
Twenty-one years after Trainspotting (1996), a generation-defining film about a group of Heroin addicts in Scotland that launched the career of academy award winning director Danny Boyle, the long awaited sequel, T2 Trainspotting (2017), has finally been released. In the new film, audiences catch up with their favorite characters, Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), as they reunite for the first time since Renton stole a large amount of money from the rest of the group in the closing moments of the first film. While T2 perfectly captures the visual style that made the first film a classic, in terms of narrative, the story gets hung up on trying to stay relevant and as a result, struggles to say anything substantive, making the audience question whether or not a sequel was necessary.
Whether it be a television show or a film, any narrative with drug addicts integral to its plot must have a visual sequence devoted to illustrating the effects of the drugs for the audience to get a glimpse into the character’s perspective. In Trainspotting, various surreal sequences were used to demonstrate the characters drug hallucinations such as Renton fully diving into a toilet and searching its plumbing for bags of Heroin. However, what sets Trainspotting’s visual style apart from other drug-centered films of the 90’s was its unconventional visuals that were persistent throughout the narrative. For example, Boyle utilized Dutch angles and off axis pans and tilts to explore dialogue sequences that would otherwise remain static causing the audience to lose interest. Fortunately, over the last twenty years, Boyle, has not lost his unique shooting style, as the way the camera interacts with the scenes in T2 quickly becomes the main point of interest for the audience. In effect, one could make the argument that T2’s visual style is greater than the original film because its visual style is more subtle, but still able to get its effect across. While Trainspotting contained several fantastical sequences, T2 only has a handful that are much shorter in length due to the characters using heroin less frequently. By being restricted in using the fantastic, Boyle is still able to keep up the off kilter point-of-view in the film with only the aforementioned camera placements and moves.
A large reason that the visuals become so prominent within T2 is because it is difficult to remain invested in the narrative. Boyle and the writer of the film, John Hodge, struggle to capture the voice of the current generation and comment on modern-day drug use in the same fashion Trainspotting originally did. When following up a film twenty-one years after its release, audiences expect to see how time has affected the characters in the film. In the case of T2, the characters remain similar to how we last saw them, which can be explained away as a comment on the difficulty drug users have in finding change. If that is the case, then the filmmakers need to capture how the current society would treat these characters compared to the society of the 90’s. Unfortunately, T2 struggles with doing so because it is unable to properly capture the present generation as well as Trainspotting did with its generation. For example, when raves became a prominent aspect of young adult life in 90’s, mainstream media was still struggling to accurately capture the allure that the events had. This allowed an independent film like Trainspotting to surge into the mainstream and provide society with an answer to why raves were engrained in young people’s culture. By prominently showcasing the day-to-day lifestyles of those that go to raves and do dangerous drugs, mainstream audiences were given insight into that niche society during an important time in its history. In contrast, T2 finds difficulty in capturing a generation because it attempts to capture mainstream concepts that the general public already understands like the rise of social media usage. As a result, when Renton goes on a several minute long rant about social media users, the part of T2 that is supposed to be the social critique turns into a rehashing of what anchors have been discussing on cable news for years. Ultimately, the film ends without really commenting on anything, making the audience question why there was a need to revisit the characters and world of Trainspotting instead of leaving the outcome of the film’s events up to the imagination of the viewer.
Upon revisiting the characters of Trainspotting, audiences are hit with a wave of nostalgia that adds interest to the film’s sequel. However, as the T2 drones on, the narrative qualities that propelled the film out of the independent market and into the mainstream will feel missed and leave members of the audience largely unsatisfied as the plot unfolds. With the only saving grace of T2 being the striking visual style, the film only adds another addition to the train of unnecessary sequels. Therefore, Celluloid Cinema awards T2 Trainspotting 2 out of 5 reels.
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