Twenty years have passed since Danny Boyle's blistering, drug 'n rock-fueled coming of age film, Trainspotting. It became a cultural phenomenon not only across the pond but a touchstone here, and basically launched the careers of Ewan McGregor (who had a falling out with Boyle afterwards), Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, and Jonny Lee Miller. In that time a lot has changed for all involved, and the idea of a sequel was far-fetched. Boyle has become one of the top directors in the world, McGregor one of the most versatile actors around, and everyone has just moved on. Or so we thought. After much hype and anticipation, T2 Trainspotting arrives, kicks the down the door, and says that growing older doesn't mean having to slow down in the least.
The most important thing to note about T2 Trainspotting (Besides that the title sucks, let's be honest) is that it doesn't feel like just another cash grab. It's clear right away that Boyle and the returning cast, of which ALL of the principles have returned, were eager to be reunited for this particular story. And it doesn't take long to see why. In the twenty years since Renton (McGregor) bailed on his buds Sick Boy (Miller), Spud (Bremner), and the deranged Begbie (Carlyle) with £16,000 in drug money they were meant to split, a lot has changed. He's been living in Amsterdam, has a wife and a pair of kids, and has kicked the heroin habit cold. But now he's back in Edinburgh after his mother's death, and the hope is to make amends with everyone over what happened. What he finds is Spud living along and still hooked on drugs; Sick Boy now known as Simon has hopes of starting a brothel with his sexy, young female friend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova); and Begbie...well, he's still behind bars and eager to exact brutal retribution on Renton.
If the first movie was brimming with the youthful energy of those who would "choose life", to quote its signature catchphrase, the sequel is a more considered examination of that choice. It's also, at least to me, a much funnier movie as a result, because there's so much darkness considering most of the characters have kicked their drug habits. However, there's always something to replace a vice, and these guys had loads of personal issues that have only gotten worse without heroin as a distraction. Simon sets out on getting a measure of revenge on Renton, as well, but instead falls into the nostalgia of an old friendship. He's still tremendously bitter and self-destructive, problems which rear their ugly heads at the worst possible times. Begbie is still a homicidal maniac, but it's interesting to see him try to acclimate (in his own way) after escaping from prison. Returning home to his wife and grown-up son, he deals with trying to pass on his criminal legacy. Oh, and there's an erectile dysfunction bit that's momentarily amusing but overall just an excuse for the juvenile humor some may feel is missing. Spud is, ironically, the film's gentle core. He may be the one still the most in thrall to his demons, but he's also the one who tries the hardest to change. Bremner brings a somber regret to the role that almost feels like it should be in another movie. Spud's scenes really work individually, but they don't quite mesh as part of the whole. Interestingly, McGregor has the least flashy and thus least interesting turn as Renton. There's nothing wrong with McGregor's performance; Renton comes with the experience of someone who has overcome a lot but fears backsliding. The issue is that Renton is now so...normal, so drastically different than the raging, shaved youth that he's kind of plain.
While it may sound like a bit of a drag, the film is still incredibly entertaining and the laughs as savage as ever. There's nothing funny about Spud's opening attempt to kill himself by suffocation, but when he's interrupted by a returning Renton and barfs in the bag tied around his head...well, that's just gross and hilarious. Overall the antics aren't so crazy with a few minor exceptions, and the conversations are more rationale rather than hyper-charged. That said, Boyle hasn't dialed down his direction in the least over the last twenty years. He still brings as much energy as ever, especially in his razor sharp editing and use of music to fill the mood. And I love the way Boyle notes the passage of time by weaving in footage from the original film, referencing old lines, characters come and gone, and more. It's impossible not to compare the two movies but Boyle wants you to do it in an instantaneous, gut emotional level.
Speaking personally, Trainspotting never did anything for me. Maybe I was too young, or the film was too British at a time when those movies didn't appeal to me. The music didn't work for me, either. I grew up on hip-hop and jazz, so sue me. It's fair to say I've changed a lot since then, just as these characters have, and one of the things about John Hodge's script (Which thankfully does not adapt Irvine Welsh's sequel novel faithfully) that I love is that it keeps these characters universal. I understand them now in a way I didn't then. We can all relate to fearing a life that isn't well lived. And to some degree I think we have all seen the double-sided coin that is nostalgia. To exist in it too long is to prevent forward momentum. This could've been a reunion where everybody shows up and goes through the motions, doing the same things, doing what's comfortable. For obvious reasons it was never going to be as fresh as what came before, and honestly I think it's unfair to hope for another generation-defining smash. The point of T2 Trainspotting isn't to be superior, but to enhance the original. And with style and a little bit of wisdom, it does exactly that.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5