“I guess you never know what you got ’til it’s gone
I guess that’s why I’m here and I can’t come back home
And guess when I heard that? When I was back home”
– Kanye West, “Homecoming”, Graduation
There’s a moment in the horribly-titled T2 Trainspotting that perfectly sums up the problems with the film as a whole. Spud (Ewen Bremner) drags his two best mates, Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) to a rather familiar location they haven’t seen in 20 years. Spud does this in memory of their late friend Tommy, who first brought them there. As Spud walks out to the field to lay a bouquet of flowers, Sick Boy laments to Renton their having to go through with this. “It’s a memorial,” Renton explains. “It’s nostalgia,” Sick Boy counters. “You’re a tourist of your own youth.”
And therein lies the problem – not only with this film, but with nearly all belated sequels: it knows it can’t match the visceral freshness of its predecessor, so it falls into the trap of asking “Wasn’t it great back when that one thing happened that time?” This would be fine if the film were able to offer up some sort of pointed commentary about being the old-timer who does nothing by wallow in memories of “way back when”. Instead, Trainspotting 2 actually is the old-timer wallowing in its memories.
And it’s not as if the film is lacking for material on which to riff; Renton is getting divorced (not from Kelly MacDonald’s Diane, who returns for a single scene); Sick Boy inherited an old pub that has the spectre of gentrification breathing down its neck; and Begbie has erectile dysfunction. Each of these points is paid a single sentence of lip service before the film falls back on a limp plot to turn the pub into a brothel, which is actually just a way for Renton to screw over Sick Boy, and/or vice versa.
The closest the film comes to the biting social commentary of the original can be found in two scenes. The first features in the opening pre-credit sequence. It involves Spud’s legitimate attempts to get clean and stay clean, but being foiled by that most deceitful of devils: Daylight Savings Time. The second scene involves Renton sharing a drink with Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova as Sick Boy’s Russian escort-on-retainer who figures into their brothel non-plot) and she asks him why Sick Boy is nostalgic for the phrase “Choose Life”. This leads Renton into contemporary version of the first film’s opening monologue. The new one is funny, sad, and spot-on in its commentary of the way our species tries to dull the senses in the digital age. In other words, it’s everything the film proper should be, but isn’t.
T2 Trainspotting has all the elements of its wonderful predecessor, but it’s the cinematic equivalent to a master chef simply reheating something that’s been in the freezer for a long time: it may stop your hunger pangs, but it won’t leave you satisfied.
“Speed Demon, you’re the very same one
Who said the future’s in your hands, the life you save could be your own
You’re preaching about my life like you’re the law
Gonna live each day and hour like for me there’s no tomorrow”
– Michael Jackson, “Speed Demon”, Bad
It speaks to the resilience of the Fast and The Furious franchise that it took sixteen years and eight films before it started to show its age. For any other franchise – save for A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th – even the fourth film would likely go straight-to-video, devoid of any of the creative team that made the original such a success. Yet the FatF franchise took the opposite approach, using their fourth film (2009’s Fast and Furious, meant to be the finale) as the kick-off of a franchise revitalization that has thrived by embracing both the diversity of its cast, the ridiculousness of its set pieces, and the unmatched screen presence of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Still, the first act of the latest entry proves the series is beginning to show signs of fatigue. In a self-referential early scene, we’re reintroduced to our crew at the conclusion of a recent job that took place off-screen. On the one hand, it says something that franchise is so aware of its own tropes that we audience members could probably imagine the job without actually seeing it. On the other hand, drawing attention to the way the series has repeated itself so often makes it seem a bit long-in-the-tooth.
To this entry’s credit, the twist of series hero Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) turning on his team “family” – as the result of being extorted by new villain Cipher (Academy Award-winner Charlize Theron) – is an interesting development. The appearance of fellow Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren also serves as one of the movie’s high points. Still, the choice to add Jason Statham’s villainous Deckard Shaw to side of the angels is undercut by a series of revelations seemingly designed to make Shaw a franchise mainstay. The further addition of Scott Eastwood as the protégé of Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody gives the impression that they’re trying to replace late Paul Walker (whose disappearance here is brushed away in one sentence) via quantity over quality (not that Walker was the greatest actor, but still).
Having said that, once that first act is out of the way, this movie does what these movies do best: put on wonderfully absurd action sequences (using a surprising number of practical F/X) that constantly try to top one another. It’s clearly time to start picturing the finish line for this, but this entry still has enough energy to keep things moving at an enjoyable pace.