Over the past few years, whenever Danny Boyle has been interviewed, the question of a sequel to his 1996 hit Trainspotting has been brought up, unsurprisingly since the book Trainspotting was based on has seen 2 sequels and a prequel in the intervening years, but for the longest time it didn’t look like the film would be made, mainly due to a public falling out Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor had as a result of The Beach. Now, the issues the two had have been resolved and the sequel to Trainspotting has been made, but there was always a worry that the film would be bad, that it couldn’t live up to the original classic, but I’m glad to say that the film is good and works because it isn’t trying to fully recapture the tone of the original Trainspotting. Now in order to talk about the plot of this film, I’ll need to talk about the ending of the original Trainspotting, so if you haven’t seen the original Trainspotting, watch that first before reading this review.The film takes place 20 years after the original Trainspotting, which ended with Mark Renton stealing £16,000 from his friends, leaving £4000 behind for his friend Spud for not alerting the others to what he was doing. After spending the past 20 years in Amsterdam, Renton returns to Edinburgh after a health scare, reuniting with Spud and Sick Boy (now going by his real name, Simon), Simon wanting to get revenge on Renton for stealing the money. At the same time, Begbie escapes from prison (where he’s spent the last 20 years), making it his quest to get revenge on Renton. The main focus on the film though is the relationship between the characters, mainly the one between Renton, Spud and Simon, reflecting on the nature of memory and nostalgia over the past 20 years. Many of the best, most powerful scenes in the film are to do with the nostalgia the characters have for the time when they were younger, when they felt less of the pressures of the world. During the 20 years since the first Trainspotting, the world has moved on and the characters at times feel like they’ve been left behind, waiting for changes that will help them that will probably never come. This is best exemplified through the symbolism of the pub Simon runs, which was formerly one of the busiest pubs in Edinburgh due to its proximity to the docks, but over time, the dock-works closed down and the gentrification that Simon hoped for has not occurred. There’s also a lot of powerful moments of self reflection on the nature of the characters and the harm that they have done to themselves and others, with Spud and Begbie presenting these attitudes most effectively. This even ties into references to the first film, mainly with this films version of the Choose Life monologue which, in this film, is filled with anger and bitterness over how badly Renton’s life has turned recently.
The film isn’t just melancholic though, there are a lot of moments with great humour, mainly when Renton and Begbie first meet each other and a scene where Renton and Simon steal money from a group celebrating the victory of King William of Orange in the Battle of the Boyne (although that scene does go on for way too long).
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Ewan McGregor does a great job as Renton, showing a great deal of self-reflection over what happened over the past 20 years and his desire to make amends for what he did, whilst adding a great mix of anger and humour to the role. Johnny Lee Miller as Sick Boy is another strong performance, showing his anger at Renton for the theft 20 years previously, along with a desire for reconciliation and still being haunted by the pain of his daughter’s death in the first film (although the writing of the character isn’t really consistent from scene to scene). Robert Carlyle as Begbie meanwhile is just as terrifying here as he was in the first film, in fact he may be more intimidating, but there are some great moments of self-reflection over his whole attitude, particularly his relationship with his son, near the end of the film. Out of the main four, Ewan Bremner gives the best performance as Spud. When we see Spud here, he’s at the end of his rope, feeling that he has nothing to contribute to the world and having lost virtually everything that gave his life meaning. The events of the film though give Spud a renewed focus on life and it’s his character arc which is the most important for the overall tone of the film. In terms of the other performances, we get nice little cameos from Kelly Macdonald, James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson and Irvine Welsh, whilst new addition to the cast Anjela Nedyalkova as Veronika starts off feeling a bit extraneous to the cast, feeling like she was only included for titillation, but over the course of the film, we see that she is probably the smartest character in the film and is just as ruthless as Renton and Simon.
On a technical level, it’s clear how Boyle has progressed as a director since the first Trainspotting. Whilst this film doesn’t have the visceral thrill of the first film, it’s aiming for a different tone entirely and the more subdued direction from Boyle fits this style. This is aided by strong cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle, who is one of the best, but still highly underrated, cinematographers in the business and this film has some very impressive work from him. The film also makes great use of the physical geography of Edinburgh, having a good mix of iconic landmarks and some of the seedier areas of the city, and for a chase scene in the film, makes strong use of the cobbled streets and hills prevalent throughout Edinburgh. Effective use is also made of clips from the first Trainspotting, highlighting the nostalgic tone of the film, in particular a very powerful scene after Spud tries boxing to overcome his heroin addiction. This also leads into the great music of the film, continuing the trend of the original film, with particularly strong use of Silk by Wolf Alice and Radio Ga-Ga by Queen, along with a very entertaining original song. The best use of music though goes back to the original film and the use of Underworld’s Born Slippy and Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life. Born Slippy is given a remix here, taking on a slower style which fits the melancholic tone of the film, whilst Lust For Life is used as effective punctuation for the nostalgic tone of the film, the first second of the song being enough to put you in the nostalgic mind frame.
Overall, T2 Trainspotting is about as good a sequel to Trainspotting as you can hope for. Whilst there are a few niggles in the plot for me, which I won’t go into here for fear of spoiling the film, the switch from the energetic first film to a more melancholic tone here is incredibly effective, reflecting the passage of time and making for a more emotionally powerful film.
My Rating: 4.5/5