Director: Danny Boyle.
Screenplay: John Hodge.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Anjela Nedyalkova, James Cosmo, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, Irvine Welsh, Gordon Kennedy, Scot Greenan, Steven Robertson, Simon Weir, Bradley Welsh, Atta Yaqub, Tom Urie.
“You’re a tourist in your own youth”
When Hollywood decide on doing sequels they tend to green-light them as soon as they see the box office receipts. The majority of the time it’s a financial decision and they don’t want to miss out on turning another coin. The same can’t be said for Danny Boyle. He’s waited 20 years to put this sequel together. The time had to be right, the actors had to naturally age and the script had to have substance. This wasn’t just about cashing in. This was about doing justice to its predecessor. Many had reservations on this sequel even happening at all, such is the love for the first one, but T2 is still a meaningful journey and takes the lives of it’s characters in a satisfying direction.
Plot: Twenty years have passed since Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) stole £16,000 from his friends and disappeared to live in Amsterdam. After a health scare, though, he returns home to Edinburgh where he has to face up to his old pals and, somehow, come to terms with his choices in life. Getting around Sickboy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) is one thing but Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is less forgiving and still has murderous intent.
I’m a recent interview, Danny Boyle related a story about his time making T2 whereby an Edinburgh local (who witnessed and realised what they were filming) bluntly called out to the director: “This better no be shite, Danny!”. I think it’s fair to say that this person managed to convey the sentiments of everyone in a simple (but necessary) comment. This was always the worry when it was announced that Trainspotting 2 was going ahead. That said, the wait is over and Danny Boyle has now delivered his vision on the middle-aged lives of these much loved characters. This man’s comment can now be answered and, thankfully, T2 is not shite. In fact, it’s rather good.
Back in 1996, Trainspotting spoke to a generation. A generation that suffered at the hands of a Thatcherite government that turned its back on the working classes who, steeped in poverty and desperation, succumbed to a drug epidemic that permeated their neighbourhoods. It had such a vibrant and passionate approach that it resonated deeply with audiences. It was hailed as a modern masterpiece of British cinema and, to this day, still remains one of my all time favourite films. Attempting to recreate that magic was always going to be an extremely difficult task. In fact, it’s an impossible task. The original was never going to be surpassed. If you can accept that then you’ll be more open to what T2 does deliver. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone and those expecting the vibrancy and ‘lust for life’ attitude of the original will be sorely disappointed. It’s a wise move from Boyle, though. He doesn’t tread the same ground and pitches the tone with a melancholy sadness. But it feels authentic and John Hodge’s script is fitting for the passage of time. The youthful enthusiasm of these characters is now gone and in their place is a more mature and jaded view. Like life itself, it’s abundant with reflection.
However, despite the protagonists being 20 years older, they’re still stuck with the same characteristics; Renton is still morally questionable, Sickboy is still wheeling and dealing, Begbie is still a deranged psychopath and, most tragically of all, Spud still struggles with addiction and recovery.
Once again, the performances are excellent. All of the actors step back into their respective roles with absolute ease and the standout’s are similar to the previous outing; Ewen Bremner’s Spud brings the heart and soul while Robert Carlyle’s Begbie brings the dangerous edge and gleefully dark entertainment. If one isn’t attempting suicide by putting a plastic bag over his head, the other is popping copious amounts of Viagra and getting a hard-on for violence. Despite it’s downbeat tone, though, it still has the ability to provide the laughs and hasn’t lost touch with Irvine Welsh’s black humour. Added to which, are welcome flashbacks and referential nods to T1 – which include cameos from Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, James Cosmo and Welsh himself.
There are a couple of missed opportunities, though. In Welsh’s follow-up novel, Porno, Sickboy, in his twisted nature, would anonymously send Begbie gay porn magazine’s when he was in jail. Naturally, it drove Begbie mad and he was determined to find the culprit – believing it to be Renton and adding fuel to his fire. I thought this to be one the novels most hilarious narrative strands but, sadly, it’s completely omitted here. The other thing is that John Hodge doesn’t touch upon the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014. Considering Renton’s rant from the first film about how “It’s shite being Scottish” and “we’re colonised by wankers” it’s slightly disappointing that it was ignored. It does, however, do a clever and genuinely hilarious sketch on the ignorance of British Nationalism and the knuckle-dragging Orange order. It’s probably the closest the film gets to any form of a political commentary. That said, politics are not the main focus here. It’s about life and choices, it’s about despondency and facing your demons. It’s actually more in tune with Sickboy’s world view from the first “You’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever.” T2 is not concerned with chasing the high’s anymore, it’s about accepting and living with the low’s.
It may lack the kinetic energy that made it’s predecessor so entertaining but in its place is a maturity and a wisdom that can only come with age. In many respects, it’s the ideal sequel. Danny Boyle employs his usual visual flourishes but he’s more restrained and that’s what the material demands. This is a nostalgic companion piece and there’s not much more you can ask for. It doesn’t match the first but, at the very least, it compliments it.
Trivia: This is the first time since 1997 that Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle have worked together (since A Life Less Ordinary (1997)). The two had a falling out when McGregor was passed over for the lead in The Beach (2000) in favor of Leonardo DiCaprio. McGregor stated that they have since reconciled, and that he considers the whole matter “water under the bridge”.