Review: T2 Trainspotting

A great sequel that offers something new and a hit of nostalgia, T2 Trainspotting is well worth the watch.

20 years after running away with the money earned from the original film’s drug deal, Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh and re-enters the lives of Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle). The question is whether the past has been left behind or still affects everything two decades later…

I only saw the first Trainspotting a few years ago, but it was worth waiting for. Even though I was only a kid in the 90s, the soundtrack alone transported me back, but the gritty story of these druggie idiots and their struggles at that low level of society is still like a punch in the face, even now. The sequel (author Irvine Welsh wrote the second book, Porno, in the last decade) adds that kick of nostalgia (for the viewer, not the characters) as well as telling a very adult story of middle age. Director Danny Boyle uses the same techniques and often the same locations as before to ram home just how little or how much has changed in 20 years, with freeze-frames and crazy camera moves supplemented by overlaying past on present through Jon Harris’ editing, accentuating the four’s dislocation from the events of the first movie.

The plot, cribbed from Welsh’s sequel (which was understandably renamed), is both believable and mundane enough to be realistic, though there were some missed opportunities. Sick Boy plots revenge on another character, but nothing more is made of it, and a sub-plot concerning opposition to their plans from a new character just peters out. The whole spectre of Scottish independence/Brexit is studiously ignored as well, which surprised me! A more general focus on the four and the issues between them would have made it perfect, but I get what Boyle and writer John Hodge are going for by tying in changes in Edinburgh and Scottish culture to the changes the four experienced. The dialogue, conversations and confrontations zing as much as in the first (with perhaps a little less drug-infused mania), and the ending is fitting, as well as essentially leaving everything open for a T3 – though that would be ridiculous in another 20 years.

t2-1Despite being the breakout star of the original, McGregor feels almost incidental throughout T2, but Renton serves as a catalyst for everything that takes place, and that’s probably why his role is pretty basic. He also sees most callbacks to the original movie, and the inertia of the character’s life since (and the conclusion here) is quite interesting – not where I expected him to go. His highlight is a new, impassioned and furious “choose life” speech that seems to scream from the helplessness of his generation, liberated by the 90s and now simply not able to understand the modern world, and for that alone he deserves some recognition.

Bremner, Miller and Carlyle however all seem to have much more to do this time around, and all three actors seize the opportunity. The hapless Spud is the only one not to have made any kind of meaningful life transition, but as the story develops Bremner gives the idiot of the bunch development, his middle-age anguish and a need to save himself giving him perhaps the most maturity and us the most satisfaction come the end. Miller’s very unsympathetic Sick Boy suffers from a curtailed revenge plot but otherwise disgusts and amuses in equal measure, the English actor presenting the almost irredeemable character eventually beginning (as with all four) to realise where he might go from here on out in life.

But the best character (no question) is Robert Carlyle’s Begbie. A furious, insane and bizarre machismo bastard, Begbie’s escapades are centred on brutal revenge, but as the movie progresses more and more is torn from his outer brute, before a couple of really quiet surprising scenes, where the actor conveys a sense of a life wasted and irrevocably damaged by his actions. We all enjoy watching larger-than-life scumbags like this (especially in the many, many confrontational and tense scenes here) but I really thought Carlyle took a great opportunity in giving the psycho a window into how others perceive him and how his life is broken, and I think he’s the best of the bunch.

The other main star is Anjela Nedyalkova as Veronica, Sick Boy’s “girlfriend” and partner-in-crime, and the actress does quite well with a role that shifts and changes, but which doesn’t offer her much individual development beyond interactions with the four and their schemes. Other actors pop in and out mainly for a hark back to the past, including Welsh’s criminal friend of the gang, James Cosmo’s broken, older father of Renton, and Kelly McDonald’s grown-up schoolgirl Diane, who puts Renton to shame with some searing life advice.

The soundtrack is strongest when it uses the original’s iconic music, such as Iggy Pop and Underworld, and some of the newer songs were actually distractingly bad (though that might just be a question of personal taste). The way the movie is shot is as uniquely different as the last, with Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography bringing Boyle’s updated vision to the screen with crisp and clean lines, a rather stark contrast to the scrappy filming of the original particularly when showing the rising tides of gentrification compared to the old Edinburgh.

If you enjoyed the first and can tolerate the swearing, violence, drug-taking and everything else, you’ll enjoy T2, no question. No point in watching if you’re not keen about any of the rest! Overall I really enjoyed it, and thought it was actually a more coherent movie than the first, though perhaps that film’s post-modern, bizarre nature was why we liked it in the first place.

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