Director: Danny Boyle (Steve Jobs, 127 Hours, 28 Days Later, The Beach, Trainspotting)
Novel: Irvine Welsh
Screenplay: John Hodge
Producers: Bernard Bellew, Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Andrew Macdonald
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Steven Robertson, Ewen Bremner, John Kazek, Shirley Henderson
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 117 min.
The 90’s seem so very far away now. Talking to some people I know, it’s ancient history. Time makes fools of us all, and trying to explain dial up internet, Ibiza Uncovered and Gazza’s goal at Euro ’96 to younger generation millennials will no doubt leave some us feeling foolish. The same could almost be said for Trainspotting. When first released in 1996, the film was a cultural phenomenon. For us Brits, it was as iconic to the 90’s as Britpop and bleached blonde hair. If you didn’t know that Irvine Welsh’s series of vignettes was a novel, you certainly knew it was a movie. Shallow Grave (1994) introduced us to Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle, but it was Trainspotting that truly broke them out. From the thumping drum of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life which launches the film, it’s uniquely comic yet bleak portrayal of junk addiction, to the simple yet brash mugshot poster, everything about the film screamed iconic.
20 years after Boyle introduced us to “perfect day” overdoses on skag, we are reintroduced to Mark Renton and his so-called friends in a film which isn’t really aiming for the same never say die exuberance that infiltrated our hearts. Why would it? Danny Boyle, one Britain’s more idiosyncratic directorial exports, is quick to let us know that two decades have really slapped these guys in the face. So much so, that even the consideration of playing Lust of Life pains the listener. Of course, this is not about the loudness of the track, but more the memories it digs up. We re-encounter Renton hit with physical health problems, but, like all his mates, he is haunted by his moment of betrayal which in turn left his friends in the gutter.
Instead of revelling in golden-hued nostalgia, T2 works best when its characters are reminded that their past is rife with sin. Trainspotting was drenched in a youthful nihilism which motivated every character, T2 has Renton and co look deep within themselves with a deep sense of regret. The film’s poignancy lies within what the characters have thrown away in the last twenty years. There’s no doe eye back slapping at the heady days of their youth. These people hurt each other and it shows. We like to think that such deep old wounds will heal over fine. They don’t. There’s always scar tissue.
T2 is pretty much what a life of toxic masculinity can get you. Whether it’s Begbie’s resentment towards his son, despite not being in his life, to the fractious relationship between old “pals” Simon (Sick Boy) and Renton. Boyle accurately details the dissipation of youthful energy within the angry young man. Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting was originally released around the same time as Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club (now well known as a 1999 film), and both Boyle’s film and Palahniuk’s book do a remarkable job of showcasing one of the main issues of the so-called 90’s man: that they had very little to rebel against. Therefore, they turned amongst themselves. T2 has Boyle explore what would happen if these Scottish roustabouts tried to salvage some of the remnants of themselves, and each other, after the damage is done.
This is all done with the smoothness you expect from a director like Boyle, who decides early on that while he and screenwriter Hodge may be able to give us anything exemplary from a narrative perspective, he’ll certainly work hard with Anthony Dod Mantle to ensure that visually the film will retain interest. The askew compositions, metaphors and visual motifs to Irvine Welsh’s own novelistic off shoots, are never indulgent and playfully highlight the cock-eyed viewpoints of our Scottish antiheroes.
It’s little surprise however, that much like the original film, T2 is quite top heavy. While the scams that are pulled off here don’t feel as rambunctious as before, they still show that wickedness doesn’t rest easy, even as our protags stumble into middle age. Like its predecessor, T2 loses a little bit of shine as it dives into the final third. The plot descends into something rather mechanical and uninspiring, while certain character decisions feel rather unconvincing. When T2 focuses on dubious antics, it excels. When it becomes bogged down in actual plot, it stagnates. This doesn’t stop the cast from giving it their all. Both Mcgregor and Miller slip back into the groove easily. As does Robert Carlyle whose Begbie still excites in spite of the film spending a bit too much time with him. The film’s secret weapon however, is Ewen Bremmer, whose role as the dopey Spud fully establishes him as the film’s emotional core. Unlike the previous film, Bremmer’s role is more fleshed out, giving T2 something Trainspotting never had and was never really looking for: Heart.
That’s never been the reason to watch Trainspotting though. It’s always been the scams and shenanigans. That’s what the audience is here for. Dodgy plot be dammed. Whether it’s robbing Unionists of their credit cards, or some dubious blue pill action, the bleak lolz are there for the taking. T2 Trainspotting gleefully obliges.