Let’s be upfront about this. T2 Trainspotting was never going to be better than its twenty year old predecessor. It would be impossible to think that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge could recapture the magic of 1996. It could never emulate the soundtrack, the t-shirts, the parodies, the ‘Choose Life’ posters… It was a moment never to be replicated.
But there was an opportunity.
When we first meet Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), he’s no longer the human drinking straw he once was. Long after stealing £16,000, he’s returning to Edinburgh after hiding away in Amsterdam. His youthful bravado has been replaced by a fragility brought on by a recent heart attack. He’s home and he wants to make amends. This, of course, means having to face up to his friends for his past crimes. Friends who aren’t doing so well since his little misdemeanour. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has broken out of prison after 20 years inside. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) runs a failing pub, whilst blackmailing businessmen with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Spud (Ewen Bremner) is depressed, separated from his family and very much still on the drugs. Any happy endings you may have imagined for them two decades are go are like tears in the rain, to paraphrase a certain android.
Seeing the four lads on screen is special. There’s an elation that was never captured in Irvine Welsh’s literary sequels (on which this one is loosely based). They may all be a bit creakier and softer than they use to be, but It feels like they’ve never been away. Perhaps the film’s biggest strength in this regard is Bremner as the put upon Spud. From beginning to end, he is without doubt the heart of the film and, in a parallel universe somewhere, he would be the lead of T2 and not Renton.
However, as hinted at earlier, that feeling doesn’t last for long. The literal heroin chic of Trainspotting has dissipated, making way for the bloated spread of middle age. Whereas the original had a rawness to it that shook you by the throat, T2 feels very much like an exercise in style over substance. Honestly, there are only so many Dutch angles a film needs to have. That’s not to say Boyle’s flourishes should be ditched, they just distract from what we’re here to see. This is story about the past, about misgivings, about regrets and its best moments are the simplest.
Renton, in his childhood bedroom, wants to play a record but can’t allow himself that pleasure, taking the needle off just as Lust for Life kicks in. At an 80s themed nightclub in town, Renton and Sick Boy – dressed as they were twenty years ago – try to recapture their youth amongst people trying to emulate a youth that wasn’t theirs. In a sense, the past Renton and Sick Boy want is not what they had. Begbie, impotent and unimportant, relives the times he was feared through Spud who has taken to writing down his junkie history. This is when T2 feels most honest about what it’s trying to say: we refuse to look forward by trapping ourselves in the past.
Like its characters, T2 also appears to be reminiscing a little too much. There was always going to be nods to the first film; the first trailer practically screamed at us to remember when wearing sunglasses with yellow lenses was the height of fashion to someone somewhere. However, it feels like there’s a lack of confidence in how long T2 can stand on its own two legs without the support of the first film. So, we’re constantly reminded of THAT run down the street, THAT Underworld song, and even THAT toilet. It feels unnecessary, which is odd given that, to be fair, as Sick Boy points out: ‘Nostalgia is what you’re here for.’ And yet, was anyone asking for an origin story to Renton’s iconic ‘Choose Life’ speech? No, me neither.
Other issues come in the form of Veronika. In the original book T2 was based on, Porno, Veronika was originally Nikki, a uni student and part time escort. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with Nedyalkova’s performance, I just struggle to understand why the proactive Nikki was replaced with the passive Veronkia who serves no real purpose for a large part of T2’s running time aside from being an object to be lusted after by Renton and Sick Boy. Not even a third act revelation extends her character much beyond sex object. It just tops off what has been, sadly, a rather mediocre event.
Stylish to a fault, but with a strong cast and killer soundtrack, T2 is sadly not the follow up hoped for. Perhaps it can be too late to go back.