Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller
After twenty years since he ran away while stealing £16,000, Mark Renton (McGregor) returns to Edinburgh, the only place he can truly call home. There waiting for him are his old sparring partners that he has known since childhood; Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Miller), Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Bremner) and Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Though much has changed, they also all find out that just as much remains the same.
Most sequels generate the fear of God into those that loved the first film, but surely when it was announced that Danny Boyle was making a sequel to Trainspotting that fear was particularly high, as the first film was such a decade and generation defining classic.
However, Danny Boyle is a smart director, and many elements of the narrative of T2 play on the fact that the 1996 original was held in this high regard, and it actually allows the sequel to examine themes of disappointment. This also makes the film immediately more engaging, as we the viewer cannot help but examine our own lives and whether they are just as underwhelming and unsatisfactory as those of the film’s characters.
I have no idea how close the story of T2 is to Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno (not a particularly marketable title for a film of course), but John Hodge’s screenplay is more than happy to not only heavily reference, but also remind us of so many of defining moments of Trainspotting. This is certainly a bit of risk, and the very much character driven narrative does feel a little too slapdash and contrived at times. Though of course a counter argument to that would be that it is partly supposed to depict the random, drug-infused lives of its characters.
However, though it does contain a fair few narrative flaws where perhaps the less it is analysed the better, T2 Trainspotting does predominantly get away with it to produce a film that is often a euphoric and insanely energetic piece of pure entertainment, but it also does have its heart plenty of substance and genuine emotion, and is very much a worthy sequel that more than justifies its existence.
In fact, though T2 certainly references its predecessor with plenty of visual flashbacks and the characters discussing the events of what took place during that film’s narrative (and indeed before it), it is indeed very much a different beast. This is very much one of the key reasons as to why the film works, as there is far less actual drug taking and none of ‘the same again, but they are just older’ nonsense that some sequels would try to do, there is more of a focus on the consequences of the character’s actions of the first film. Though there are at times some painfully contrived moments that drive what is often a quite lacklustre central plot, it allows the narrative to explore some very pertinent and poignant themes such as friendship, loyalty, regret and the fact twenty whole years can just pass us all by in an instant, and we feel that we have nothing to actually show for those years or represent any supposed achievements we may (or may not) have made.
This narrative approach also allows us to engage with the characters on a much more emotional level than perhaps we did in the first film. They all have their own individual character arcs and all have some relatable qualities, and the fact we engage with the characters means that narrative contrivances are that bit more forgivable.
The performances from the returning cast are all excellent and they are share a great on-screen chemistry, which is of course vital for telling a story about four individuals that have known each other since childhood. Robert Carlyle is particularly intense and convincing as psychopath Begbie, but he brings a certain substance to the character that also makes him engaging. The main standout however is Ewan Bremner as Spud; he gives a subtle, understated performance that makes Spud such a deeply sympathetic character that we can all relate to in some way. Though Spud’s involvement as the cause of some the narrative developments does feel a little too convenient and contrived, Bremner’s excellent performance certainly softens the hard edges of the narrative clunks. Though the inevitable fifth character of Simon’s girlfriend does feel like she exists solely at the convenience of the narrative, and these elements of the story do feel a little too forced.
It is of course not all doom and gloom; T2 contains many, many hilarious, and often quite random moments that make for an often uproariously entertaining experience. As a visual and audio experience T2 is also often a euphoric viewing experience, with Danny Boyle thoroughly enjoying himself behind the camera by throwing in plenty of fancy shots and pieces of editing. While the songs used and Rick Smith’s thumping score only enhance this.
From start to finish T2 Trainspotting gives us plenty of style and substance, and though it doesn’t all work, it is a film with many, many great moments and it also gives us an ending that is on the whole, both satisfying and appropriate.
Thankfully the fears of many were proved wrong; T2 Trainspotting is a sequel that more than justifies its existence. Though all narrative elements may not work, it successfully references its predecessor, while also being very much a different type of film on its own terms that manages to be both uproariously entertaining and emotionally engaging at times.