There was always going to be a heavy weight of expectation attached to a TRAINSPOTTING sequel. Danny Boyle’s 1996 original was a cinematic cultural marker for those of us of an age, sitting alongside such films as PULP FICTION in the pop-cultural moment. Gritty and youthfully freewheeling in its outlook, speaking to our burgeoning sensibilities if not exactly our context. Sporting a large portion of the original cast and crew—from director Boyle to writer John Hodge, again adapting an Irvine Welsh novel, to the entire central ensemble and many of the original peripheral characters—the bare bones of a successful sequel seemed to be in place. Still, it was with a sense of trepidation that I approached T2 TRAINSPOTTING. Would it live up to its predecessor? Would it go even further and stamp its own mark?
Opening with an excellent remix of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ by The Prodigy over a montage of people working out and walking the streets, the filmmakers pay homage to the original right out of the gate, promoting connection between the two films. This tactic continues and pays dividends as Boyle and co. generously weave in flashbacks and smart mirroring of iconic past moments (such as Renton’s manic smile at the driver of the car he’s just had a run in with) rather than choosing to cut and run from the source after an opening nod. On the other hand, T2 very much proves its own beast, unlike, say, THE FORCE AWAKENS, which, though decent, swam almost entirely in the narrative soup of A NEW HOPE*. Most importantly T2 is a damn rollicking watch! Grim? Yes. Dark and disgusting at times? Sure, you wouldn’t expect it any other way. But the story cranks along and the characters are as rich as they ever were, the ensemble magic firing once again. T2 should have no problem as a standalone but as a continuation of the story kicked off in TRAINSPOTTING it is considered and reasonably satisfying.
Having ‘chosen life’, at the expense of his friends, and skipped the country with all of their ill-gotten gains, 20 years later we find Mark Renton returning from a ‘clean’ life in Amsterdam (oh the irony!) back to the streets and byways of Edinburgh. He finds his old friends more or less as he left them: Spud (Daniel) is still a junkie struggling to keep his life together, Sick Boy (Simon) has seemingly traded heroin for cocaine and struck up business interests centred around low level sextortion and blackmail, Begbie is still in lock-up…and is still angry af. As Renton tries to reconnect with the old crew, what could possibly go wrong?
With two decades of intervening experience Boyle and his cast pick apart the journey, or lack thereof, of now middle-aged Mark, Simon, Francis, and Daniel. John Hodges T2 screenplay is top notch, delivering meaty character drama and grim humour inside the film’s crime-thriller wrapper. Aside from Jonny-Lee Miller’s occasional slips out of his Scottish brogue, performances are tight and the chemistry of the group remains strong. For all his philosophizing about the nature of addiction Renton has to face the fact that the drugs have not been entirely to blame for many of his problems. Perhaps a function of my youth, but I passed off much of Renton’s distasteful behaviour in TRAINSPOTTING as the follies of drug-crazed youth but there is no denying 20 years later that he is, and always was, a selfish, self-centred arse. It is no wonder his friends have major issues with him. I’m still taken aback by how much menace Robert Carlyle manages to project as Francis Begbie despite not being the biggest or most threatening looking guy (a trait he shares with Joe Pesci). Kelly Macdonald only cameos as Diane this time around but her performance is worth at least twice its weight in screen time. And it’s nice to see Spud transition from primarily comic relief to one of the more fully realised characters as the film progresses.
Pre-release interview comments from the central cast that they had no concerns about tarnishing the legacy of the original film after reading the script are borne out. Indeed, Danny himself, at our local première, promised that T2 is “definitely not shite”. The man came correct; so should you.
*A reference made all the more pertinent by Boyle’s comment to the media about TRAINSPOTTING being “Scotland’s STAR WARS.
Rating: R16 Violence, offensive language, drug use, sex scenes & content that may disturb.