Skip to main content

So what have you been up to... for 20 years?

T2 Trainspotting
(2017)

(SPOILERS) “First there was an opportunity. And then there was a betrayal.” The story of making of The Beach? I had been of the view that Danny Boyle was dicing with artistic death by revisiting past glories, particularly given Trainspotting’s dismissal of those who inevitably get old, past it and deteriorate, but this – and maybe it is just that nostalgia talking, an active conversation the picture cannily embraces and foregrounds, almost metatextually so – is his best picture since those glory days. He can’t resist overdoing the directorial dazzle at times, and screenwriter John Hodge’s conceits don’t always come off, but Boyle’s reunion with Ewan McGregor has resulted in a tale that breaks new terrain on its characters and actively picks up themes that had been left open-ended. T2 Trainspotting, against the odds, more than justifies the decision to reopen the book on this quartet and how they haven’t grown.


I was initially disappointed to realise there would be no ongoing narration, since Renton’s conversational insights are such a core facet of the original. There’s a notable, informative exception:  the very funny scam he and Sick Boy (I’m going to call him Sick Boy rather than Simon here, and Renton rather than Mark, and Begbie rather than Franco, and Spud rather than Daniel, as it’s just plain easier; even if it rather goes against the picture’s intent of character exploration, such a choice is fully in keeping with its two-edged nostalgic streak) pull at the Orange Order event. That, and the reprise of “Choose Life”, which is explained rather than narrated (over-explained? Some might rather come away feeling that Boyle has over-ed everything here).


Those aside, this is very much a straight story punctuated with Boyle’s pop sensibility, whereas the original wore its jagged edges with pride, fashioning a uniquely lyrical pattern. As such, I can see how a narration wouldn’t fit here. Renton has no vantage point from which to explain his place. He’s lost, lost in a reverie for the past when he’s not mulling his not that untypical mid-40s present – divorced, conscious of his mortality, imminently to lose his job – and that past extends way back, as far as childhood exploits, the wonders of George Best, and as recently as the final shot of Trainspotting.


While Boyle possibly over-quotes himself, it’s hard not to conclude that Hodge’s screenplay almost entirely justifies such a decision. I’ve seen the re-contextualising of the original compared to Back to the Future Part II, which is apt in some respects; while that picture made the narrative repeats wholly essential to the plot, Robert Zemeckis stopped and indulged nostalgia for the crowd-pleasing highpoints of an original only four years old. This is a picture where all Renton’s chickens come home to roost, so dealing with the past in a way Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s similarly-themed The World’s End entirely failed. There’s a great scene in which Mark and Sick Boy shout over each other while the latter’s not-quite girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) resorts to speaking Bulgarian, and her commentary on the oblivious pair entirely sums up the movie: “You’re living in the past”.


Aren’t Boyle and Hodge doing likewise, through their creations, tourists in their own creative peak? Spud seeing (the opening) scenes from the original; Renton passing by Take Two of the Worst Toilet in Scotland (before, in possibly the standout scene for crackerjack comic timing and tension, encountering Begbie on the other side of a cubicle); Renton rolling off the bonnet of a car, then fixing the driver with that wild-eyed, lovin’ it grin; the strains of Lust to Life spluttering, threatening to kick into gear courtesy of The Prodigy’s remix; the inevitable heroin fix; the “Choose life” conversation; returning to mourn Tommy at the very spot they spurned his clean-living intentions, as Renton and Sick Boy exchange sharp rebukes over their capital crimes.


Renton, despite having made a clean break, has heart problems – he never did get clean inside, Hodge is telling us – and none of them have made successes of their lives. Spud is still a junkie, Sick Boy still a sleazy, sick boy-man, user of others and coke, Begbie still a complete fucking psycho. And Renton, still self-justifying his less-than-honourable behaviour. Only Diane, in a too-brief cameo from Kelly McDonald, has moved onwards and upwards, becoming a lawyer (a good and noble thing? It is here anyway, because it is at least something tangible). Regardless, she holds forth one of the slyest observations, given their very illegal first coupling, telling Renton that that Veronika is “too young for you”.


The picture wisely steers clear of trenchant political positions or commentary, as these characters are far too self-involved for anything approaching bona fide social consciences; about as far as Boyle is prepared to go is the “Choose Life” redux, which is far more about social devolution 2.0 – or simply the out of touch older generation – more about a general antipathy than any kind of incisive invective (even if the 9/11 reference skirts close to fake news/conspiracy debunking).


The Veronika character, on the one hand, is devised as a plot motor, to reveal aspects of our “heroes”, rather than translating as a rounded character in her own right (what do we really know about her by the end?) But, on the other, she’s something of a modern take on the femme fatale, there to manipulate them into arriving at the outcome she wants, and sitting pretty while they’re left with egg on their faces. Nedyalkova certainly seizes the role and every scene, quietly making space for herself against the showier roles of her fellow actors.


She’s there to bring Renton and Sick Boy back into each other’s arms and is so successful, they may well spend another 20 years failing to do anything other than love/hate each other (the “Why don’t you just fuck each other” line is a bit on the nose, mainly because it’s been the highlighted subtext of pretty much every bromance in recent memory, but it still succeeds in context). And she’s there to untap Spud’s cork of authorial ability. That’s probably worth £100k of EU funding.


Spud’s writing is a lovely touch: I’ve assumed Renton is effectively a stand-in for Welsh himself (and, of course, Ewen Bremner played Renton on stage before McGregor put a pretty face to the part), but transposing him to Spud, an idiot bard in the making, is inspired; the comic relief of the original becomes the heart of the sequel. And Bremner shows he’s the great unsung master performer of these movies, his pile of gangling limbs and strangulated delivery giving way to soulful insights that retain that same essence of character, such that you can see how he nearly tames the Begbie beast into a bliss of past exploits remembered.


The follow-on from this, that Begbie is even awarded a momentary attempt to locate humanity in his anti-paternal relationship, left me wondering if that decision might have been a mistake, since you should never soften a psychopath (so too, it might have offered a finality, if that toilet had permanently pulverised his skull; if there wasn’t at least one eye on further chapters, I suspect such a thing would have come to pass).


The menace of marauding Begbie, a relentless T-1000 on the trail of Mark Renton (appropriate for the title, then), gives the picture its own distinctive rhythm and inner tension, and if feels right that the threat doesn’t come from an outsider; it’s this group that destroyed their own lives, rather than it being anyone else’s fault. Indeed, during the closing stages, along with a couple of visual nods to Blade Runner (of all things), I was put in mind of the deranged crescendo of Boyle’s debut, Shallow Grave (prior to that, there’s even a spade, or two, so they can dig a pit, or two, although that scene just sort of shows up there for no good reason, a narrative cul-de-sac). I have to admit, though, with those childhood flashbacks, that I’d never even considered Begbie was supposed to be a contemporary of the other lads; the vague acknowledgment of this, by noting he’d been kept back in class, elicited simply a “What, for 10 years?” (not unlike attempting to believe there’s only seven years between Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci in Goodfellas).


Carlyle is a solid as you’d expect, able to effortlessly tap Begbie’s endless well of rage, although having him also play Begbie Sr is a bit too cute, and his exploits with Viagra appear to have wandered in from a Judd Apatow joint. Miller, Sick Boy’s bleach job receding and in demeanour simply sour where before he was winningly pithy, is toxically magnetic and displays such easy chemistry with McGregor, you hope they do other things together.


Yes, McGregor. Whose film this is. Finally, after decades of anaemic, inoffensive appearances –  in the region of 50 movie roles – he gets to tear into a vital character. It’s no wonder he’s identified himself so profusely with Renton in interviews, as it feels as if, in career terms, he has finally chosen life. Hopefully he and Boyle will work again before too long, as three out of four is pretty good evidence of alchemy.


Like I say, not all of T2 works – there are times when Boyle becomes too diverted by his own visual trickery, such as the cartoon heads stuck on footage from the original, or an obvious gag like Raging Spud (although, Anthony Dod Mantle’s skills as a cinematographer are the perfect complement to this kind of material; let him never darken the doors of a Ron Howard extravaganza again). And there’s the fact that the lean, mean original has suffered middle-aged spread in its running time (although, honestly, I barely noticed, so just what am I complaining about here?) And the get-rich scheming echoes the least resonant aspect of the original (that is, when these films are veering into “movie” plots, rather than striking their beats from experiences).


But generally, the balance struck in both embracing and rejecting nostalgia, in the name of exploring its allure to a generation for whom there is now only self-referencing, is near-perfectly achieved. And there are some sharp conceits, such as the undercutting of the (trailer: that Wolf Alice track is perfection) moment where Renton saves Spud with the latter’s complete lack of appreciation, or Sick Boy’s coke-addled revenge scheme singularly failing off a cliff. And then there’s the lovely moment between Renton and dad James Cosmo: a simple hug at the top of the stairs. And Lust for Life, finally charged up, finally leaping into life, finally, at the end. Maybe there is still hope.


T2 Trainspotting has a chance to find its own level of audience attachment in a way the rapturously-received original didn’t (which is not to say it didn’t fully deserve its success, but I remember going to see it on its first day, and its status was a fait accompli); the cautious, not entirely-convinced response makes its long-term appeal less assured, but also more intriguing. After all, you can’t really have a zeitgeist movie for the middle-aged. Can you? So, T3 in 2038? With Begbie in a bath tub, chasing Renton, Spud and Sick Boy down a hill? On heroin? I’ll be there. 


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.