‘So what you been up to… for twenty years?’
– Simon to Renton in T2 Trainspotting.
Released over 20 years after the original, T2 Trainspotting’s first trailer opens with a question which not only reconnects two iconic characters, but also makes a promise to the audience. After two decades, we will finally see these characters again, and find out what becomes of them.
But this promise comes with its own set of questions: can it be as good as the original? Why, after all these years, now? T2 has opened to strong reviews, indicating that the film has quelled any presupposed doubts, but the risks were high.
Take, for example, the long gestating sequel follow ups Bad Santa 2 and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which arrived over a decade after their original instalments. They reunited key cast members (and in Sin City’s case the director), but both were considered sizeable box office and critical disappointments. Why do studios keep taking these gambles with sequels made years after the original?
Sequels years in the making can be released to revive the fortunes of a franchise that maybe fell out of favour with audiences and critics. Films such as Rocky Balboa, released in 2006 (16 years after Rocky V), falls neatly into this category, with the marketing campaign for the film seeing Sylvester Stallone talking candidly about the commercial disappointment of Rocky V and his own issues with it. Rocky Balboa proved a critical and commercial hit on release, and a spin-off followed nine years later – Creed – which again won critical and commercial acclaim, with Stallone nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2016.
This can also be the case with franchise revivals such as Star Wars, where despite the fevered reverence of the original trilogy, the prequels left audience aching for a return to form for the franchise. Reuniting the stars of the original trilogy 32 years later proved exactly what the franchise needed, and box office receipts totalled over $2billion.
Throughout all of these films the word nostalgia looms large. Sequel revivals and reboots seem to be a priority in modern Hollywood. From Power Rangers to Ghostbusters, old properties are being dusted off in the hope of finding a new audience and reconnecting with fans of the original, to varying degrees of success.
Even outside of Hollywood this trend is clearly in vogue. Long-dead television shows are being brought back for new ‘event series’ – from Prison Break to The X-Files to Twin Peaks. Studios will be hoping these show will not only bring audiences to the new series, but that younger audiences may then perhaps seek out the original series, giving decades old shows a new lease on life.
There’s an undeniable thrill in seeing Han Solo pilot the Millennium Falcon once again, or Renton finally reunited with Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie. But ending fan speculation on the varied paths these characters could have taken, and revisiting cherished franchises, is a tricky balancing act which can either reap dividends or destroy much-loved franchises.