Why John Wick 2 succeeds where Trainspotting 2 fails

Let’s compare John Wick 2 to Trainspotting T2, if only because they were released around the same time. On the one hand we have the sequel to a critically appraised action movie, on the other hand the sequel to one of the seminal 90s classics.

It took a long time to get Trainspotting 2 off the ground. Director Danny Boyle and leading man Ewan McGregor had a falling out when the former decided to cast Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach instead of McGregor, who had previously been in the director’s Shallow Grave, Trainspotting & A Life Less Ordinary.

The story we heard in interviews seemed to change based on the person interviewed. Boyle said he was waiting for the cast to age, while McGregor basically said he had no intention on working with Boyle again. There had been a book sequel to the first movie’s source material called Porno, yet this had received mixed buzz. Once the two buried the hatchet a new script got written, and the result can be seen on the screen right now.

The problem with Trainspotting 2 is that it’s not that engaging as either a sequel or as a standalone film. Take what John Wick 2 does so well. On the surface the two movies couldn’t be more difficult (one is about junkies dealing with their addiction, the other about a hitman forced out of retirement), yet there’s something that connects them more than you’d assume: their attention to the world the main characters exist in. In the case of Trainspotting we fell in love with the world of junkies, both horrible and beautiful at the same time. With John Wick we cared about the main character’s quest, but loved the assassin world that we kept seeing hints of.

Trainspotting 2 has a problem, and it lies with its characters. In the first movie they’re not well-defined, because they don’t have to be. They are very inert, caring more about staying high instead of making substantial changes to their lives. What Trainspotting does so well is gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to be trapped in the world of drug addiction. The problem when making a sequel arises at the end of the movie: a decision is made, and this has to be addressed in a follow-up. Basically we go from a milieu-driven movie to a character-driven movie.

It’s not great when the reason people enjoyed your first movie has little to do with its characters. John Wick 2 is in an easier spot: it can flesh out its world of assassins since that’s what people responded to the most. We go from a simple revenge story in the first movie to John Wick getting trapped in the mechanisations of his world.

What was Trainspotting 2 supposed to do then, not being in such a luxury situation? It’s easier to ramp things up in a sequel, than it is to slow things down and go down a more introspective route. All I can think of is abandoning the characters from the first film and examining what the drug world is like in the 2010s. Either that or to ditch Renton entirely from the sequel, focusing on the remaining gang’s continuous failures.

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