Of all of the sequels, prequels and remakes that have sprung up in the past six or seven years, a decades later trip back to the not so sun soaked centre of Edinburgh for T2 Trainspotting wasn’t even a prospect that was on my radar. With the original 1996 masterpiece still as fresh and vibrant today as it was then, I must admit to be being slightly baffled by Danny Boyle’s decision to get the band back together for a catch up. Would this sequel add to the near perfection of its predecessor, or rather tarnish its now ‘franchise’ reputation?
Overall, I think it would be fair to say that it does neither of those two extremes. Set twenty years after the final moments of the original, T2 once again follows Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton (Ewan McGregor) as he journeys back to his hometown after having escaped from his previous life and addictions to start afresh in Amsterdam. Anybody who has seen Trainspotting will know why Renton’s reappearance was sure to ruffle feathers, and over the course of the film we see him reunite, to differing degrees of amiability, with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner), the now of age Diane (Kelly MacDonald) and the, if it’s possible, even more psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle). In no time at all, Renton is dragged back in to his old life of outlandish money making schemes and casual drug use, but this time with the added weight of a life already lived rather than a life ahead of him, ready to waste. Though I will confess that it was nice, if the nice is the appropriate word, to be back in the company of these morally questionable characters all these years later, the narrative of T2 leaves me wondering whether there was any real point in unsealing the perfectly preserved tomb.
You know how some of the most valid criticism thrown at Star Wars is that there are only so many times we want to watch a smaller ship destroy a large spherical weapon? Well in T2, the same can be said for main narrative repetition. Just as the original culminates with a large amount of money being taken, so does the sequel, and this results in an overwhelming feeling, on my part, anyway, of nothing new or valuable being added to the story. Therefore, was there really any point? There is no doubt that a degree of interest and intrigue is taken in completing a ‘then and now’ exercise with each of the characters, but in the end the conclusion that is reached is that the ‘then’ elements were much more enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I was having a good time, but I soon came to realise that the root of most of my enjoyment was in the references and even flashback scenes to the original movie. There was something so effortlessly cool about Trainspotting, so innovative, so vivid, so ‘new’, that ultimately I am just not sure whether a story about the dreadful lives of a group of 45 year olds is as exhilarating as a story about the dreadful lives of a group of 25 year olds. Ageist? Perhaps. There is also something to be said about the fact that the central plot of T2, a plot about Renton and Sick Boy applying for a loan to open a brothel, is not nearly as interesting and endearing as it was just to watch them living their everyday lives in 1996. Audiences do get to revel in the consequences of Renton’s decision twenty years ago when prison escapee Begbie finally catches up with his old friends, but for me, at least, the whole film package isn’t quite enough to earn a place next to its bigger, better, older brother.
As an older but not necessarily wiser Renton, Ewan McGregor effectively plays the part of a man who knows he is too old for this shit, but cannot help being dragged in to the nonsense that his early years won’t let him escape from. Though McGregor’s physicality and aesthetic is no where near the iconic levels that he achieved in the original, there is no doubt that the Renton we love is somewhere in there, and McGregor always proves to be an enjoyable on screen presence even in his worst pictures. Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy is perhaps a little less endearing than his previous self, carrying obvious resentment about the past, and the surprise of the film is undoubtedly Ewen Bremner who as Spud gets to really evolve from simple sidekick in to something much more important. Given the role of connecting the cinematic universe of Trainspotting to the literary world of the source material, Bremner manages to pull it off in a way that doesn’t feel overly hokey or conceited. Robert Carlyle as Begbie was never going to give a subtle or nuanced performance, and he certainly doesn’t let the side down in his chaotic mania.
Overall, T2 Trainspotting is a film that I certainly wasn’t upset about seeing, but one that I can’t really see much of a justification for in the grand scheme of things. As a standalone picture, it doesn’t quite have a strong enough narrative, and though the pure nostalgia of seeing beloved characters again definitely counts for something, it feels like the film relies a little bit too much on reminding us of how good the original was in order to get us to enjoy this current adventure. Trainspotting was so utterly of its time whilst being simultaneously timeless, and in a weird way, T2 can’t really be said to be either of those things. It will definitely be a pleasant trip down memory lane for fans of the original, but, much like heroin I’m sure, there really is no substitute for the real thing.