T2 TRAINSPOTTING was never going to match its predecessor. Lightning, we are told, doesn’t strike twice. TRAINSPOTTING captured the zeitgeist and summed up so succinctly and stylishly the people and culture of Britain in the 1990s. We fell instantly in love with some deeply flawed characters and we wanted to see them get out OK. You’d never be able to quite replicate all that in the same way. That said, I really liked Danny Boyle’s long-awaited return to this world and will say it takes the older and no wiser characters to some interesting places.
Twenty years after Renton (Ewan McGregor) ran away with all the money from a large drug deal and left his friends empty-handed, he is drawn back to his native Edinburgh. The city has changed almost beyond recognition, but addled Spud (Ewen Bremner), skuzzy “entrepreneur” Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) and the psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) have not. Renton’s return causes old friends to reminisce, new schemes to be hatched and revenge to be plotted.
“So you came back for nostalgia?” Sick Boy asks Renton. Boyle, writer John Hodge and their film pointing out that this is a shameless look back at a great story doesn’t exactly elevate the material, but it’s a clear statement of intent.
Ewen Bremner is still the secret weapon here. They keep up with tradition and give Spud the film’s chief comic gross-out moment, but Bremner also has fun with Spud’s hitherto undiscovered (and amusingly miraculous) talents and guides him on his own moving story of self-discovery. By the end he’s become a sort-of Irvine Welsh surrogate, which I’m sure the author would be very happy with. Renton gets a tweaked and biting “Choose Life” speech to belt out and Begbie gets unexpected moments of humanity in addition to his usual pitbull behaviour, John Hodge restoring a key character moment from Welsh’s first novel that was absent from Boyle’s original film. It’s pleasing to see Robert Carlyle take his thug in a slightly different direction. Yes, he flies off the handle – attacking his parole officer over a table and chasing a terrified Renton through Edinburgh at night – but elsewhere Carlyle plays it much lower-key, and is far more menacing as you really can’t tell if or when he will lose it. A scene with his teenage son (Scot Greenan) following a failed burglary is beautifully handled and difficult to predict the outcome of.
T2 of course features plenty of nods to the original with flashbacks, location callbacks, striking jump-cuts and familiar music cues, not to mention another killer soundtrack of its own. It’s a story of looking back, of not being able to move on and of the worst times in your life looking rosy compared to your current tribulations. So many things never change and others only get worse. Renton’s visit to his family home is rendered bittersweet by the absence of his mother, as he sits at the kitchen table with his old man (James Cosmo) with an empty chair opposite casting a sad shadow.
I always found the original Trainspotting really funny, in a black-as-pitch kind of way. T2 is funny in a broader sense, with slapstick brawls, deals going right then very wrong in quick succession, and in one scene a hurriedly improvised song advocating the extermination of Catholics to a blood-baying sectarian crowd. Some of the most enjoyable scenes just follow the boys hanging out, going off on tangents and coming up with the next hair-brained plan to escape life’s cruel cycle.
The plotting is admittedly fractured, some set-ups don’t pay off particularly satisfyingly and it only becomes something more than a trip down memory lane when all four central characters have come into contact (or conflict) again. It may be a retread, but that’s the point: that’s what a lot of life feels like. It’s great to spend some more time with these friends who feel like our friends and see what they’re up to and what they haven’t learned. Hodge avoids anything too sensationalist and anything too soapy, the cast slip back into their roles like a pair of favourite shoes (or a relapse) and Boyle gives the whole thing pumping energy and visual pizazz enough for a pretty decent hit. SSP