Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: John Hodge
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle
Plot: 20 years have passed since Edinburgh heroin addict Mark Renton (McGregor) stole a large sum of money from his gang of friends. Now middle-aged, Renton returns to Edinburgh to reconcile with his friends Spud (Bremner) and Sick Boy (Miller) while avoiding recently released vengeful psychopath Begbie (Carlyle).
When the original Trainspotting came out in 1996, it was instantly hailed as a classic of British cinema thanks to its both brutal and funny social commentary on Edinburgh underclass youth struggles, vividly brought to life through an eclectic soundtrack, a group of iconic characters and some visionary filmmaking from director Danny Boyle.
Understandably, eyebrows were raised when it was announced that a sequel was being made, particularly in an era where there are now often needless sequels to many classic movies. With Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and all the original cast returning, though, there was hope that perhaps T2 Trainspotting could have been a worthy follow-up. Now that it is here, is it?
The answer is both yes and no, all down to the same reasons. In some aspects, the time gap works well as it has allowed the cast to physically age alongside their characters, older but mostly none the wiser. Boyle and Hodge use this to examine relevant issues such as mid-life crisis and the burden of guilt over the past, injecting some nice humour into the mix. However, this often makes T2 depressing to watch at times and this means that it does lack the excitement and furore of the original. While Boyle is a talented director, his style this time feels constrained and rather conventional. Only in short bursts do we get that stunning editing and visual style associated with Trainspotting, but even that is not enough to stop T2 from feeling like a very different film.
As for the characters, there are attempts to make them more human and well-rounded, which doesn’t always succeed. What made these characters so dynamic to watch in T1 was their amoral behaviour and wild shenanigans, making viewers feel part of their gang. In T2, though, their internal and external conflicts only serve to distance viewers from them.
Of this group, Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the one who benefits from this character development the most, his struggling problems making him very sympathetic. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is perhaps the biggest disappointment, going from a terrifyingly raging psychopath to a stereotypical vengeance-fuelled villain with a very tacked on character arc. That said, there is one touching moment where you actually do feel remorse for him, a moment that pays tribute to a scene found in the original novel, but never appeared in T1. It is one of the film’s few effectively emotional call-backs to the past.
As it turns out, T2 relies very heavily on nostalgic tributes to T1, with footage and locations from the original being included very prominently. Unfortunately, this is T2’s biggest setback. By relying too heavily on the past, it doesn’t devote too much time to examining the wider contemporary issues of 21st century Scottish society, save for one scene where Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) unintentionally perform at a bar. Overall, T2 has its strengths, but isn’t able to reconcile them with its weaknesses. In short, choose the original.