T2 Trainspotting

UK Release Date 27th January 2017
Director Danny Boyle
Starring Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie
Runtime 117 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 5th February 2017

It’s been a while. And I think about the same sort of time since I watched the original. Trainspotting was a big thing in my youth. Not just a big movie, but an actual big thing. The poster adorned pretty much everybody’s first year room in halls and the soundtrack was everywhere. The movie launched pretty much the entire cast, the writing / producing /  directing team and Underworld. A scorching document, breathtaking in its no holds barred approach to the darkness of heroin addiction and the hopeless future or the post Thatcher years. Choose life….

So, twenty years on, what can T2 Trainspotting bring us in this new, post-truth age of escalating inequality and rampant gentrification? The answer, in short it probably nostalgia. Which a good bit of humour and a happy feeling brought about by reconnecting with a part of what feels like your own past. Whether that’s enough to warrant the expectations brought on by the name is another matter….

T2 finds Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton reappearing in Edinburgh after a sojourn to Amsterdam, brought about by the events of the previous movie. Ewen Bremner’s Spud, after a brief period of sobriety is now back on the horse and living in horrific squalor pretty much as per the previous movie. Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) is running his own, spectacularly unsuccessful, extortion raquet with non-girlfriend / business partner Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) and Begbie is locked up, constantly being refused parole.

Renton heads off around the old haunts to reconnect with his old buddies, and in Simon’s case repay him the £4k he nicked from him last time. Some are more pleased to see him than others but it soon becomes clear that the life he idolises back in Amsterdam is a complete sham and Mark has nowhere better to be than back home. Literally back home, in the room kept as a shrine to him by his now dead mother. Sick Boy soon hatches a half-arsed plan to scam his former best mate as an act of petty revenge and Begbie busts out of the joint via some pretty nasty knitting needles. Of course, it’s not long before the inevitable occurs.

It really is great to have the team back together again and as soon as the various post-millennial re-mixes of the classic soundtrack kick in, it’s like being whisked back in time. This is clearly a movie made for the love of the characters and not for the love of relaunching a franchise or anything as tawdry as money. In that respect, it is probably amongst the very few unrequested sequels that appear decades after the original that you could count as a success. Off the top of my head, I’m struggling to come up with any that appear this long after the original and maintain the original cast and more importantly, the original integrity. The Color of Money maybe? But that’s about it, I’m not counting Bambi II.

Which makes for a more interesting question, what will newbies make of this compared to long standing fans? Sadly, I don’t have the social circle to test this out comprehensively but I just can’t shake the feeling that the years have dulled its edge somewhat. Where the original was furious and dark as pitch, this one if more exasperated and wearily jovial. Begbie aside, the violence has a more jocular matey feel about it and the drug use, whilst still evident has lost its sting. That’s not to say this movie shies away from these issues, they are still very evident, particularly with Spud and I'm not expecting a retread of the original, it’s just that it feels a little….. gentrified. 

Which is where the conflict comes in my mind to this movie. On the one hand, it’s a warm and welcome return to characters we all love but on the other, it is harking back to a movie that is clearly its superior. Having said that, it’s still an absolute blast. None of the returning cast miss a beat. McGregor is Renton and one flash of that demonic grin is all you need to slough off the last twenty years and find yourself right back in some godawful student disco. Sick Boy and Renton’s evolving scheme to rip-off the local government's regeneration money to fund a brothel in Sick Boy’s mother’s dilapidated pub is hilarious and the warmth felt between the characters is genuine and very touching, especially when it comes to perennial loser Spud - here developing his writing powers whilst battling with his still present addiction and the regret he feels about his estranged family.

Not all of the side plots stand up to scrutiny - Begbie’s attempts to get his hotel management student son into the old family business feels a bit forced and the ultimate betrayal doesn’t have anywhere near the clout of the original’s but for the most part, the movie bashes along at a frenetic pace, helped by Danny Boyle’s still spot-on ear for mashed up pop music (best use of Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood for a long while). The script (John Hodge returning) is genuinely laugh out loud funny in places and it’s not just sheer nostalgia that gets you in the feelings, it’s very easy to imagine these guys reuniting the first day on set and just falling straight back into character as if days had passed rather than decades. And of course, Boyle's continually inventive stylistic flourishes mean that pretty much every frame of the movie is something to behold.

In Short:

It’s difficult not to love T2 Trainspotting because it so perfectly captures the nostalgia of a time passed, not matter how grim that time was. Even though the savage satire of original has been replaced with a sort of mild scolding and the inevitable ‘Choose life…’ moment seems a little forced, the evocative hum of the wonderfully remixed Born Slippy will whip you back in time, as will the camaraderie between the leads. The edge may have dulled in the two decades since the original but the warmth has grown, even if no lassie gets glassed in this one, it’s still great to have the boys back. All together now; lager lager lager!!  

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