Starring: Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), Ewen Bremner (Alien vs. Predator), Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary), Robert Carlyle (Once Upon a Time), Anjela Nedyalkova (Avé)
Director: Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs)
Writer: John Hodge (The Program)
Runtime: 117 minutes
Release Date: 27 January (UK), 17 March (US)
Trainspotting is an iconic film in many regards. It’s the film a lot of people think of when they think of Scotland. It’s the film that jumpstarted Danny Boyle’s career, as well as the careers of its entire cast. It’s a perfect encapsulation of 90s culture, especially in regards to the youth and the drug scene, but it’s still just as relevant today. So why make a sequel? There are plenty of reasons not to, but just as many to do so as well. You could tread on the heels of a classic, but equally you could expand on a story that may play out a little differently in the modern world. T2: Trainspotting ultimately doesn’t need to exist but, even though it can never reach the heights of its predecessor, I’m glad it does.
Picking up in real time from the end of the first movie, T2 finds the characters of the original scattered. In many ways time has changed them, but they all still have the same ticks and vices. It’s a story about reflection, rediscovery, and accepting your lot in life, as our protagonists struggle to recapture a lost past that was never that good to begin with. It is a film more focused on character than story, and on that level it ultimately succeeds, but in the actual plotting it feels a little unfocused. The original film didn’t exactly have a flowing narrative either, opting for more of a slice-of-life feel, but each story flowed more naturally into the next. Here, the film basically starts with a handful of storylines and waits to see which ones last until the runtime is up; some ultimately mean something, but a lot just drop of the face of the movie. The film also reminded me a lot of the fourth season of Arrested Development in how infrequently the main characters share scenes, instead following them in their own stories that intertwine here and there; it actually takes until near the end before all four of them are finally together. The strong character journeys themselves thankfully hold the film together to create a tangible through line, because without them the film would feel far more haphazard.
Speaking of character, all four main stars recapture the essence of their characters whilst still bringing something new to the table; it’s like they’ve been living in the skins of these people for twenty years and brought all that baggage with them. Ewan McGregor’s Renton has changed the most, having tried to choose life but ultimately made a mess of it. He’s more aware of his mortality than ever and is trying to reconcile his past, but he’s come back home to find that not everything can be changed. Ewen Bremner as Spud is as dopey as ever, still screwing up job opportunities and fighting his addiction, but his story here is a chance at redemption. He can’t fix his past, but he can build something from the ashes it, and his journey gives T2 more of a heart than any single call back to the original can. Renton and Spud represent the characters trying to change, but Jonny Lee Miller’s Sick Boy and Robert Carlyle’s Begbie are the ones who are unable to. They are caught up in the past, simply using the advances of today’s world to make the same mistakes they’ve always been making. This character contrast is the entire thematic core of T2, and it makes it one of the few sequels that successfully reminisces about the first film without feeling like it’s begging for nostalgia, mainly because what they’re remembering is a past that’s not exactly worthy of nostalgia. This reflection on the passage of time is best seen in Anjela Nedyakova as Veronika, who voices the audience’s main concern: why are these people stuck in a past not worth remembering? She isn’t exactly as exciting a character as our returning four leads, but she provides a necessary bridge from the old to the new; someone young enough to leave this life while they still can. There are plenty of other reprising players like Kelly Macdonald, James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson and author Irvine Welsh himself, but they are unfortunately the ones who get lost in the unstable narrative; it’s nice to see them back, but you could have easily done the movie without them.
T2 not only shows how time has changed these characters, but how much Danny Boyle has evolved as a director since the first film. He wisely doesn’t attempt to replicate the muted, grainy look of the original, instead transposing the style he has created for himself since onto this familiar canvas. The use of digital camerawork and saturated neon colours is a staple of modern Boyle and regular cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and instead of clashing with the aesthetics of Trainspotting it gives it a fresh twist; the rest of the world has evolved around these characters, and so naturally the filmmaking techniques have too. However, not all the advances work, as that also means the more trippy visuals have changed from practical effects to digital ones. Not only are they not as memorable as seeing a man climb into a toilet, sink into the floor or witness a dead baby crawling on the ceiling, they stand out too much in what is otherwise a more naturalistic piece of filmmaking. The original film’s soundtrack is arguably as iconic as the film itself, and though T2’s probably won’t be as impactful it does have a solid selection of tunes; the inclusion of a remix of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” by The Prodigy probably sums up this film’s themes better than my words can.
T2: Trainspotting isn’t as good as the first film, but it does live up to the original. It doesn’t succumb to outright repeating the original or forget what made it so special. It’s a companion piece more than a traditional sequel; an examination of what can happen when you choose life but can’t escape your past. As much as the plot surrounding them can falter, these characters remain as compelling as ever and this film provides a fitting end for them all. It’s not a necessary addition to the story, but for anyone who has wanted to know what happened to Renton and the gang this provides a satisfying answer to that question. Like sharing a few drinks with old friends you grew apart from, T2 can’t recapture everything about your memories of the past, but it can provide some closure to a chapter of your life that may need some.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10