In 1996, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller, TV’s Elementary) told Renton (Ewan McGregor, Our Kind of Traitor) about his unifying theory of life: a hit is “just a blip on a downward trajectory”. 21 years later, audiences are being beaten with heavy doses of irony. Can you go back? Should you go back? It’s not as if the years have been unkind to director Danny Boyle’s (Steve Jobs) career; it’s not as if T2 Trainspotting was needed as a desperate cash-in by anyone involved. T2 Trainspotting was made because the creatives wanted to make it. There’s some artistry here, but when you make a sequel to a movie that was very much of its time and place, you’re always going to run the risk of spiralling towards a nadir.
20 years after the events of Trainspotting, Renton returns to Edinburgh to catch up with his friends: Spud (Ewen Bremner, Exodus: Gods and Kings), still addicted to heroin, is looking for something to sublimate his addiction; Sick Boy wants to convert his aunt’s pub into a sauna to impress his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova, The Paradise Suite); Begbie (Robert Carlyle, TV’s Once Upon a Time), escaped from prison, wants to return to a life of crime, achieve an erection, and get revenge, not necessarily in that order.
T2 Trainspotting is based on parts of Irvine Welsh’s original novel and its sequel, Porno, but it is a largely original script. Boyle’s direction uses all of the tricks he learned in Trainspotting and adds a few that he’s learned in the intervening years, much of it to good effect: if what we’re watching is dull, at least it looks good. He’s too conscious of what’s come before, however, and never gives the audience a chance to forget: footage from Trainspotting is used so liberally that at times Spud literally walks into scenes from that film. That Sick Boy has dialogue warning against the dangers of nostalgia — “you’re a tourist in your own youth” — does not erase the truth of the matter: T2 Trainspotting practically wallows in itself. Screenwriter John Hodge (The Program) seems to know what he’s done, but he and Boyle are equally powerless to stop themselves.
This self-consciousness further manifests itself in an overly effusive soundtrack and inexplicable use of freeze frame; if nothing else, Boyle has excelled himself at making an occasionally beautiful film that is at times jarringly clanky.
T2 Trainspotting does well by its ensemble, at least: Spud’s reintroduction to the screen is genuinely affecting, and Bremner gets much of the movie’s best material. McGregor, nominally the hero, becomes gradually less sympathetic the more time he spends with the audience, while Miller becomes the true villain of the piece — when the character can be bothered. Carlyle, who was an important but somewhat ancillary member of the original ensemble, is given more to do, but it’s all so outlandish that it’s hard to take any of it seriously, particularly as he steers the movie towards a disappointing climax airlifted from a more substandard film than this one.
T2 Trainspotting is an attempt to return to a past glory. Without the heroin chic of its predecessor, what it amounts to is a couple of powerful scenes surrounded by empty convention and a tendency to wallow in itself. It can be worth revisiting once youthful characters decades later, but often people get less interesting as they get older: T2 Trainspotting has less to say than its classic antecedent, and takes significantly more time to say it.
T2 Trainspotting opened in Australian cinemas on February 23, 2015.
Directed by: Danny Boyle.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Anjela Nedyalkova and Robert Carlyle.