The Boys Are Back in T2 Trainspotting
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In 1996, fresh off his debut film Shallow Grave, director Danny Boyle followed with Trainspotting, a black comedy that centered on a group of misfits swimming in the pleasures of sex and drugs in the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland. There was Renton (Ewan McGregor), the protagonist and straight man of the group, the aloof and conniving Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), the naive but lovable Spud (Ewen Bremner), and the violent and hot-tempered Begbie (Robert Carlyle). It became an instant classic launching the careers of Ewan McGregor who would star in Big Fish, Moulin Rouge! & the Star Wars Prequels and the first role of Kelly Macdonald who would be in Boardwalk Empire, No Country for Old Men, and the titular role in Pixar’s Brave. It also cemented Danny Boyle‘s status as a filmmaker and go on to direct films like Millions, 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire (The latter winning seven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director).
When Irvine Welsh (author of the book the movie was based on) published a sequel that didn’t live up to the original, talks began of giving the film adaptation a similar follow-up. I was skeptical of the idea, fearing that it would ruin the movie’s spectacular ending. Without going into full details Renton makes a choice that changes the course of the group’s friendship for better and worse. It ends ambiguously leaving the audience to decide if Renton will stay true with his decision.
With the same crew and original cast back on board does T2 Trainspotting join the ranks of sequels eagerly long-awaited or result in an unnecessary letdown?
Set twenty years after the events of the first film, Renton returns to his hometown of Edinburgh for the first time. Much has changed as it usually does over time but among the things that haven’t are his old friends. Spud continues to be a drug addict, Sick Boy (or Simon as he’s now called) handles a blackmailing service with his new girlfriend Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova) and Begbie is still an unstable sociopath who has recently broken out of prison. History repeats itself as they cross paths with one another and relive the days of the previous film. Back when they were sprinting down the streets, hanging out at night clubs, getting high on heroin, getting laid with the ladies, and obtaining cash whatever means necessary,
Nostalgia has been the biggest trend in recent entertainment fare from sequels of our childhood (Finding Dory, Jurassic World, The Force Awakens), reboots/remakes (Beauty & the Beast, Power Rangers, Ghostbusters) or having it set as the tone (La La Land and Stranger Things). T2 does fall into this category but much like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the nostalgia is addressed and plays a pivotal part in the story. The guys are enjoying themselves but once reality kicks in does the fun end. They might have gotten away many things in their younger days but at their current age, not anymore. The consequences are graver and their families (what’s left of them) are the ones who suffer the most.
Like the first film, Boyle meticulously mixes the film’s dark and unpleasant moments with the right amount of humor and emotion; all accompanied by the same maniacal energy that made the first film great. The soundtrack is catchy as ever with plenty of comedic scenes particularly one involving Renton and Simon in a Protestant pub. Like any good sequel the character and story elements are furthered explored in ways that the previous film never addressed. The returning cast is excellent in reprising their roles, even after twenty years they are recognizable and stay true to their personalities. True, they continue to be a reprehensible bunch including Renton on more than one occasion but aren’t without their moments of empathy, especially Spud who continues to be the sympathetic member of the group.
There is a part of me that is disappointed that the ambiguity of the original is ruined but T2 Trainspottting surprisingly exceeded my expectations. It has more to say on both its subject matter and recurring themes from pleasure, nostalgia, consequence, and regret amidst the madness and chaos of life, eloquently captured in Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” played in both films. It succeeds as both a modern update and solid continuation to a great movie.