So, how do you follow an era-defining testament of 90s youth?
Well, you can’t, and Danny Boyle is smart enough to know that, much like his leading men, trying to match your previous escapades is likely to end in disaster.
What we get instead from this sequel to 1996’s kinetic Trainspotting is a contemplative look through the rear view mirror of lives beset by regret, anger, inertia and a deep frustration at what could have been.
While the world has changed irrevocably, Rent Boy/Mark (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy/Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud/Daniel (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie/Franco (Robert Carlyle) have largely stagnated since that fateful drug deal in London more than two decades ago in which, to quote Spud, “first there was an opportunity… then there was a betrayal”.
That opportunity and betrayal proves the focal point for T2‘s narrative, based loosely on Irvine Welsh’s literary follow-up Porno, which picks up with Mark returning from Amsterdam to an Edinburgh that is both barely recognisable and utterly familiar.
In one of the film’s numerous sly nods to Trainspotting, it picks up just as the original did with Mark running, except this time it’s not from security guards, but rather on a treadmill. Boyle flashes between this and the end of the first film with Mark’s defiant walk across Waterloo bridge, not only to act as a literal bridge between the two films but also to underscore the passing of time.
Mark fled to Amsterdam in part to get away from his “so-called friends” and fully realises there’s a price to be paid by returning home. While Spud is still a heroin addict and all the more tragic for it, Sick Boy has been reduced to blackmailing businessmen in order to make ends meet, while Begbie remains in prison. Both Sick Boy and Begbie continue to be consumed with vengeance, believing Mark not only stole their share of the drug deal but also their hopes and dreams for a life less ordinary.
It’s to John Hodge’s credit as writer and Miller’s performance that we are kept guessing as to Sick Boy’s true intentions towards his old friend. Whilst there is undoubted anger and jealousy, the brotherhood and joy the character also exhibits following Mark’s return feels just as genuine.
McGregor slips back into his most iconic role and injects a fearful guilt into his portrayal. In a beautifully touching moment, Mark sits next to his father at the dinner table, with the light casting a human shadow onto the empty chair his late mother would have sat on – another pointed reminder of the cruel march of time.
Carlyle is properly unhinged as Begbie, a powder keg of self-loathing and hatred who can’t escape the narrow path his upbringing at the hands of a wastrel father set him on.
A terrific cast, which sees the return of several familiar faces from the original, is topped by a moving turn by Bremner as Spud. Blessed with a face that exudes so much with a single look, Bremner injects a growing defiance into the most fragile of the central leads. Mark’s return acts as a reawakening for Spud, who’s told by his friend to channel his addictive energy away drugs into something more creative and fulfilling – the results of which become the film’s beating heart and key source of nostalgia.
Rather than be used as a direct homage to Scorsese as was the case in the original, the heavy use of freeze frame has been attributed by Boyle to his characters capturing a moment in time, much like a Polaroid. It’s a nice touch, although used too liberally by the director so that it ends up becoming something of an affectation.
That said, the film (and Edinburgh especially) looks stunning and while the needle-drop soundtrack (a big part of the original film’s cultural impact) may not be quite as memorable this time around, it’s in keeping with the tone (Underworld’s Slow Slippy in particular).
In Trainspotting, Mark asks: “So we all get old and then we can’t hack it anymore. Is that it?” The march of time notwithstanding, T2: Trainspotting can hack it with the best of them.
It’s been ages since I saw the first one so my memory is hazy. I can’t say I’m hugely anticipating this but glad to hear it sounds like it’s a worthy sequel!
Oh, it’s definitely a worthy sequel Ruth. I ssupect Trainspotting is more beloved here in the UK than anywhere else, but I really liked it.
There’s no official word on when we will get T2 yet which is kind of frustrating, because I think you’re right. I should shuffle some things around on my Blindspot list so that I can see the original ASAP because the more I read about this the more I become invested! Sounds like a hugely nostalgic walk down “memory” lane. Fine review kraM.
and that was supposed to say ‘but’ not because,’ dammit
Ha ha; no worries Tom. I see from your post that you are indeed shuffling your blondpot list about. Good man; I hope you enjoy the original.
Great review. I think I’ll watch the first one again and then make me way to this. Nice review.
Cheers buddy! Have you managed to rewatch the original yet?
No not yet, but I have it on DVD.
That’s me, always got a movie at the ready.
Sounds like you enjoyed this one as much as me, Mark. I thought it was it fantastic. A very fitting sequel that resisted the urge to match its predecessor. This is a clearly structured continuation and (few flaws aside) really, really impressed me. Can’t wait to see it again.
Hey mate; hope all is well. I remember your glowing review when I was writing this. I thought it was the perfect sequel in many ways. Kind of ‘Whatever Happened to the Lkely Lads?’-esque.
Definitely want to watch these together at some stage, and soon. Looks like it is well worth it.
Have you not seen the original yet? Oh Zoe, you’re in for a treat!
Oh I have seen it, just haven’t seen it in a hell of a long time 🙂 I suppose it will sort of be like watching it fresh!
super interesting review, found some parallels to the one I wrote. Nice to know people see things in a similar light!