Trainspotting 2: nostalgia done right

Back in 1996 Trainspotting was newness epitomised. Is it unfair to want the same of the follow up? Entering T2:Trainspotting, the twenty-years later sequel to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, a quote from the original comes to mind. Anyone who has seen the trailer will already know that “choose life”gets an updated reprise in T2 (‘choose Facebook’). But it was Diane’s “You’re not getting any younger” speech: “The world’s changing; music’s changing; even drugs are changing…you’ve got to find something new.”
     Loosely based on writer Irving Welsh’s own return to the lives of Renton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Spud (Ewen Bremner), Porno, T2 finds its anti-heroes still weighed down by the baggage of their shared history. Renton is a paradigm of success having ‘made it’ in London; Begbie: twenty years in prison with five more to go; Sick Boy running a pub-cum-brothel-cum-cartel; whilst, most affectingly, Spud languishes in a life wasted, estranged from his wife (Shirley Henderson, criminally underused in the plot) and preparing to choose death. As Renton returns to a newer, shinier, more international, and beautifully captured Edinburgh, however, his gym and 2.4 children existence is exposed as artifice. To make matters worse, the psychotic and vengeful Begbie escapes his cell – viewers will remember from the first movie Renton flees with three quarters of a £16,000 profit. The following sequence of events may stretch believability at times, but the intensity of its payoff is forgivably worth it.
     It is a pleasant surprise just how successfully the film adapts to its new contemporary world. Through hyperactive sequences – surely conceived on drugs themselves -Trainspotting was dizzying in its fast and loose editing and psychedelic sequencing. It was 1996, after all. It is an impressive feat that Boyle manages still to shock and render our familiar world utterly alienating. “There’s no room for an honest artisan like me any more” Spud bemoans. Mr Bremner, who looks remarkably similar to twenty years ago, is exceptional throughout T2 and stands out head and shoulders above the rest. In any given scene, Spud’s dopey resignation will prompt laughter and wells of raw emotion alike.
     Of the rest, Mr Miller’s solid as a more temperamental version of the Sick Boy you’ll remember while Carlisle returns marvellously to Begbie as though coming from two decades of method preparation so refined is his three dimensionality. Mr McGregor, meanwhile, almost falls victim to his own successes, seeming to take longest to rediscover his character, but does so nicely when he gets there. Also struggling at times to recapture its former essence is the tone of T2. Whilst four in five times quirky shots and visuals hit the bullseye, it is hard to avoid the occasional feeling of a film that is trying just a little too hard to be edgy. Similarly, while louder and bolder than Trainspotting, T2’s set pieces, whilst marvellous, render quieter passages uneven and a tad lagging. Whereas in 1996, the thrill was in the permanence of the high, the hangover lies in T2. That said, there is more than enough to keep you enthralled.
     A highlight of the film, for instance, would be the deliriously funny musical performance at a Battle of the Boyne gathering from Mr McGregor and Mr Miller; not since Alpha Papa have I laughed so heartily in the cinema. Remarkable is Mr Boyle’s work on the film. Naturally, he is a terrific director but his peak achievements in T2 are sublime. The early-on moment of Renton learning tragic news sees Mr Boyle employ lighting to cast one of the finest shadows in film history, and certainly the most heartbreaking. Other flourishes include elevating numbers on a tower-block wall and a lovely callback to Trainspotting’s “Lust for Life” opening. Memories of its predecessor are embedded throughout T2 sometimes more subtly than others. A memorial scene does feel a touch shoehorned, but as Sick Boy puts it, “you’re tourists of your own youth.” Nostalgia is the film’s buzzword.
     A good friend has reliably informed me that in psychology experiments, ‘T2’ is the term for the study of a second period of time. As a sophomore window into the world of Mr Welsh’s most vivid characters, T2 is a welcome ride and one not to be missed; particularly as it would seem that the next train, if there is to be one, won’t be for another twenty more years.


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