T2 Trainspotting is Danny Boyle’s brilliant follow-up reunites the original cast of the iconic original for more filmic pyrotechnics.
Midlife Crisisby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Would the wildly anticipated follow-up to one of Britain’s most iconic movies disappoint? Danny Boyle’s 1996 Trainspotting was cinematically life-changing. It gave a stratospheric boost not just to him as its director but also to the careers of its stars Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle and newcomer Kelly McDonald.
Twenty years later, in T2 Trainspotting, adapted by John Hodge, who wrote the first Trainspotting screenplay, adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novels Porno and Trainspotting, the four men are reunited. Now they are middle-aged, the world has changed, but only some of them have too. Together again, they reassess their past and wonder about how to live through their future. Boyle’s direction is still fast paced and throbbing with energy and pounding music tracks, but the tone is bleaker than the original, more poignant, more layered. Drug-fuelled excesses that seemed like exuberance in the young seems more about pathos in older people.
In contrast to the manic chase of shoplifters through the streets of Edinburgh that starts the first movie, as T2 opens, Renton (McGregor), now an accountant living a clean life in Amsterdam, is running on a treadmill in a gym, a hamster in a wheel, going nowhere, trying to stave off middle age – until he dramatically collapses and slides off.
For reasons that are revealed gradually as the movie progresses, he returns to Edinburgh twenty years after he ran off in London with the profits from the four’s heroin deal. It’s the first time he’s been back. He even missed his mother’s funeral: a touching reconciliation with his father (James Cosmo) sees him back in his old bedroom with its oppressive wallpaper of trains, where he once detoxed.
He gets back in contact with Spud (Bremner) and Sick Boy, now calling himself Simon (Miller) – with varying results. Spud is damaged by his continuing addiction and in despair at his failure to live up to a relationship with his wife and son, from whom he is separated. Simon is seedily running his grandmother’s run-down old pub in Leith and scraping a living from small-time blackmail in partnership with his Eastern European sex-worker girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Cocaine for him has replaced heroin. “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth,” Simon accuses Renton. And Begbie (Carlyle) is still seething in prison, where he’s been for the last twenty years.
Despite Renton’s betrayal, his friendship with Spud and Simon is renewed in this changed world. We see variations on famous scenes from the original that are transposed to the present, flashbacks to their younger selves from Trainspotting and snatches of Super 8 footage of Renton and Simon as childhood friends. Older but not really much wiser, complications ensue as Simon entices Renton into an misguided scheme to convert the old pub into a money-spinning brothel, with hapless Spud in charge of the renovation. And then Begbie suddenly bursts back into their lives, still violently psychopathic, obsessed with revenge, and creating a creeping suspense that pervades the action.
Boyle’s direction is as pyrotechnic as ever. The energy, colours, cuts, skewed camera angles and surreal mixes of past and present, the pounding soundtrack – even if one track is now The Prodigy’s version of Lust for Life rather than Iggy Pop’s – thrill and leave you as breathless with an adrenaline rush as they did in the first film, though you don’t need to have seen it to appreciate this one.
Beneath its self-referential mixture of jokiness and pessimism, the themes are nostalgia, the passage of time and a changed world, Edinburgh’s urban gentrification and redevelopment, how to face the future when you’re middle aged and the unlikely survival of friendship – of a kind. There are showpiece scenes that include an updated reprise of Renton’s famous ‘Choose Life’ monologue, a half-naked dash across the Forth Bridge, the split-screen encounter of Renton and Begbie in toilet cubicles, a visit to a rabidly Loyalist pub by Renton and Simon which doesn’t go how they expect and a dangerous stand-off in an underground car park. And an old wino finally explains the meaning of ‘trainspotting’.
Does it disappoint? No, it’s another triumph.
T2 Trainspotting is released on 27 January 2017 in the UK.