Entering T2:Trainspotting, the twenty-years later sequel to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, a quote from the latter comes to mind. Not the ‘choose life’ one – which, anyone who’s seen the trailer will already know, gets an updated reprise in T2 (‘choose Facebook’). No, it was Diane’s ‘You’re not getting any younger’ speech: ‘The world’s changing; music’s changing; even drugs are changing…you’ve got to find something new’. Back in 1996 Trainspotting was newness epitomised. Is it unfair to want the same of the follow up? How can a sequel ever be as original as, well…the original?
Based loosely on writer Irving Welsh’s own return to the lives of Renton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Spud (Ewen Bremner), Porno, T2 finds its anti-heroes still weighed down by the baggage of their shared history. Renton is a paradigm of success having ‘made it’ in London; Begbie: twenty years in prison with five more to go; Sick Boy running a pub-cum-brothel-cum-cartel; whilst, most affectingly, Spud languishes in a life wasted (literally), estranged from his wife (Shirley Henderson, criminally underused) and preparing to choose death. As Renton returns to a newer, shinier, more international, and beautifully captured, Edinburgh however, his gym and 2.4 children existence is exposed as artifice. Then, to make matters worse, the psychotic and vengeful – you’ll remember Renton fled with three quarters of a £16000 profit – Begbie escapes his cell. The following sequence of events may stretch believability at times but the intensity of its pay off is forgivably worth it.
A pleasant surprise is just how successfully the film adapts to its new contemporary. Through hyperactive sequences – surely conceived on drugs themselves – Trainspotting was dizzying in its fast and loose editing and psychedelic sequencing. It was 1996. It’s an impressive feat that Boyle manages still to shock and render our familiar world utterly alienating. ‘There’s no room for an honest artisan like me any more’ bemoans Spud. Bremner is exceptional throughout T2 and stands out head (looking remarkably akin to twenty years ago) and shoulders above the rest. In any given scene Spud’s dopey resignation will prompt laughter and wells of raw emotion alike: ‘What did you think I’d do wi’ £4000?’ It’s a performance that brings heart and empathy to a role which a lesser actor may have left feeling slight.
Of the rest, Miller’s solid as a more temperamental version of the Sick Boy you’ll remember while Carlyle returns marvellously to Begbie as though coming from two decades of method preparation so refined is his three dimensionality. McGregor, meanwhile, almost falls victim to his own successes, seeming to take longest to rediscover his character but does so well when he gets there. Also struggling at times to recapture its former essence is the tone of T2. Whilst four in five times quirky shots and visuals hit the bullseye, its hard to avoid the occasional feeling of a film that’s trying just a little too hard to be edgy again. Similarly, louder and bolder than Trainspotting, T2’s set pieces, whilst marvellous, render quieter passages uneven and a tad lagging. Whereas in 1996 the thrill was in the permanence of the high, herein lies the hangover. That said, there’s more than enough to keep you enthralled.
A highlight of the film, for instance, would be a deliriously funny musical performance at a Battle of the Boyne gathering from McGregor and Miller; not since Alpha Papa have I laughed so thoroughly in the cinema. Also remarkable is Boyle’s work here. Naturally he’s a terrific director but his peak achievements in T2 are sublime. The early-on moment of Renton learning tragic news sees Boyle employ lighting to cast one of the finest shadows in film history; certainly the most heartbreaking. Other flourishes include elevating numbers on a tower-block wall and a lovely callback to Trainspotting’s ‘Lust for Life’ opening. Memories of its predecessor are embedded throughout T2 sometimes more subtly than others. A memorial scene does feel a touch shoe-horned, but as Sick Boy puts it: ‘you’re tourists of your own youth’. In a funny twist of fate, the showing I saw T2 at preceded the screening with two trailers: Blade Runner 2049 and Alien Covenant. ‘Nostalgia’ is the film’s buzz-word and feels critically relevant.
In Psychology experiments, a good friend has reliably informed me, ‘T2’ is the term for the study of a second period of time. As a sophomore window into the world of Welsh’s vividest characters, T2 is a welcome ride and one not to be missed. Particularly as it would seem that the next train, if there is to be one, will be delayed twenty more years.