UK Release Date: 27th January 2017
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: John Hodge
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald
Synopsis: Renton returns to Edinburgh, 20 years after waltzing off with his mates’ money from a drug deal, and soon finds that time has failed to heal the wounds of betrayal that he left behind.
It’s no hyperbole to say that Danny Boyle‘s 1996 black comedy Trainspotting was a film that defined a generation. That iconic poster was as much a fixture of British culture at that time as Britpop, adorning student bedrooms in the same way Scarface did a decade earlier. All of that legacy leaves sequel T2 Trainspotting with an enormous mountain to climb, with the help of the original creative team, some bonkers camerawork and a plot loosely adapted from Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno. Two decades on, there are fewer needles and way more grey hairs, but everything else is more or less the same.
Mark (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh after a health scare and reconnects with Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner), looking to make amends for making off with all of the money from the drug deal on which they collaborated in the original film. Simon is now working with girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) and they plan to open a big money brothel on the site of Simon’s family bar. The fragile equilibrium of their new reunion is threatened when Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes from prison and, learning that Renton is back in Scotland, has revenge on the brain.
Two words come to mind when watching T2 Trainspotting – “good enough”. It’s not a film that’s going to catch fire in the way that the original film did and it’s an eminently more forgettable film in general. There’s a sense that this is a team of people joining forces once again to relive their finest hour, before returning to the rest of their lives. It’s calibrated for nostalgia and fan service rather than coherent storytelling and it feels like a reunion tour for a beloved band. There’s a little bit of fun new material, but mainly they just play the hits.
Thankfully, T2 Trainspotting has the same wicked, sharp sense of humour that punctuated the first film. Original screenwriter John Hodge is back and crafts the same mixture of gallows humour and fizzing banter that characterised the original, including one tremendous karaoke set piece that is joyous in its indulgent freewheeling. There are enough jokes to sustain the film, even when the plot fails to provide satisfaction. Even the nods to the past work when they’re kept subtle, such as in a fleeting glimpse at a grim-looking toilet, but feel a little too obvious when played out centre stage. The inevitable “choose life” reprise stretches off into infinity and is a seemingly endless grasp for past glory that does nothing to illuminate the story.
The performances are solid across the board, with McGregor and Miller especially impressive. Newcomer Anjela Nedyalkova also impresses with the meagre screen time she is afforded and Ewen Bremner makes the most of a more complex and central arc for Spud. Bremner is phenomenal in the comedy segments and, as much as his dramatic work is more limited, he provides an amiable face for the audience to access the film. On the other end of the scale is Robert Carlyle as Begbie, who has been transformed from believably edgy hothead to panto villain psychopath whose performance is all exaggerated snarls and slashing blades. It’s a betrayal of a once compelling character.
The most notable casualty of T2 Trainspotting is Boyle’s directorial rawness. In the years since Trainspotting, Boyle has become the polished filmmaker behind artful prestige pictures like Steve Jobs and has lost much of the youthful swaggering arrogance that helped catapult the unique stylings of Trainspotting into the mainstream. This new film is shot and framed with real brio, but it feels artificial and glossy in a way that the first film never did. For those who love these characters, T2 Trainspotting is an enjoyably messy caper that’s clearly in love with the film that came before it. If you’re looking for a new favourite movie, however, choose something else.
Pop or Poop?
It’s a mark only of the incredible quality of the first film that Boyle’s return to Leith feels like something of a disappointment. T2 Trainspotting is an occasionally dark, often silly, dip back into the lives of characters who are complicated, interesting and great fun to be around.
Both overly reverent to the past and brazen in its taking apart of elements of what came before it, it’s a film with a bit of an identity crisis that is enjoyable throughout, but lacking in the consistent originality of the film within whose shadow it is doomed to dwell.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.