Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: John Hodge
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova
Runtime: 117 Minutes
As expected by the will of the current cinematic climate, T2 Trainspotting is the two-decade follow-up to the original instant classic that sees the return of Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) amongst other faces in an original story that diverges from the original source sequel novel Porno from Irvine Welsh.
The overriding theme of John Hodge’s screenplay is one of age; those figures of youthful abandon in the original film now carry the weight of the past with them in their simple, separate lives. That is until Renton re-emerges onto the scene with the intention of getting back in touch with the gang for unspecified reasons. This obsession with recapturing the energy and prominence of self-purpose is something the film carries with it.
It’s possessed in its determination to revisit the original film’s iconography, narrative beats and lines that have only grown in distinction because of its continued revisitation over the years. The return of Kelly Macdonald and Shirley Henderson are short-lived cameos at the most, with Macdonald, in particular, appearing to deliver pitiful looks at McGregor (and the rest of the mature cast). Newcomer Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) is the voice of the current generation of youth, and fits well with the cast even if she’s somewhat maligned in character focus.
This is both a success and a failure of the film though. One the one hand, Trainspotting was a perfect encapsulation of a moment in time that never needed a sequel to begin with. It ended on an ideal note of Renton walking off into an uncertain but sarcastically optimistic future after staying true to his roots and screwing over his mates. To follow this up with any realistic response was always going to be a difficult thing to answer too.
The other thing is that in its efforts to relive the energy and memories of the past, the film actually fails to say much else about the contemporary landscape of society and culture. There is no evolution of the originals intended depictions of encompassing the mindset of a lost generation, and as a whole feels like a rather empty and depressing journey as we see these middle-aged men wondering through experiences and locations that are as familiar to us as they are to them.
That isn’t to be said that it’s unintentional though. Much of the film rides on the sensation of the characters experiences that will speak volumes to those who were of a similar age when they first saw the original – about how memory serves as a vestige in a world moving forward at all times without us. Some of them have families and lives to lead, yet struggle to let go of their common demons. To that end, the film succeeds, even if it uses this as an excuse to allow the narrative to just drift between familiar structures and logic to whatever rambling end it reaches.
The performances are universally fantastic; McGregor, Bremner, Miller and Carlyle still own their respected roles – be that a little older but still none the wiser. Renton has supplanted drugs for jogging as his own personal addiction, returning not to settle a score but to make amends. Whereas Begbie has been stewing the entire time in prison and cannot wait to find a new outlet for his unkempt rage. Sick Boy is still trying to make his own way in an extortion enterprise that the others get wildly tangled up in, and which forms the real plot of the film. But Spud has somewhat supplanted Renton as the tragic, beating heart of the movie – paralysed by his own inability to fight off his addictions and long led lifestyle.
The direction by Boyle is still as energetic as ever, emphasised by the digital photography, editing techniques and aggressive cinematography, it borders on irony that the aesthetic fits the psyches of the characters, but not their physiques - and his placement of music has still lost none of its power. The best scene in the film comes after the climax of a pick me up; a fantastic sequence in which Renton is reunited with a vengeful Begbie in a club. It’s fantastic visual comedy occurring in a single frame that leads to a terrific chase sequence through the all too familiar streets of night-time Edinburgh.
T2 is a kind of exhausting experience as a story. It pays lip service to the modern world and contemporary dynamics, but instead chooses to wallow in its own history rather than find a means of moving onto more stimulating ground which the title should carry. That being said, for what it is this is a decent version of what it sets out to be. It’s a funny, occasionally touching retread – but it misses the agency and significance of the original film by a wide margin.