Director: Danny Boyle Starring: Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Anjela Nedyalkova Running Time: 117 minutes
For a good chunk of the people involved, Trainspotting was a launching pad for success, providing steady careers for the likes of Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlysle or Kelly MacDonald and Oscars, OBEs and stardom for lead Ewan McGregor and director Danny Boyle. Which is to say that revisiting Trainspotting isn’t necessarily a ‘Glory Days’ exercise because the film wasn’t necessarily as good as it got for the people involved. But what about the characters involved in the film itself? What if living as a despondant, criminal heroin addict was the best years of your life? T2 Trainspotting never comes close to reaching the chaotic energy of its predecessor regardless of the return of its original cast and director, but it always knows what an uphill battle that is and at least tries to remain wryly self-aware about the mid-life crisis it appears to represent.
Right from the beginning, T2 matches the final shots of Trainspotting – Renton’s cheeky optimistic grin as he makes off with the full share of the take from that film’s climactic drug deal – with Renton now, jogging on a treadmill before collapsing due to a heart condition. Two things can be learned here, first, middle aged Renton has been literally shaken up after running in place for years, secondly, that there’s going to be a looooot of footage from the first Trainspotting here. The film goes all in on it’s indulgence in nostalgia, as Renton returns to Scotland after years hiding out in Europe. Divorced, unhealthy but with plenty of time to stew in it, he decides to reconnect with his old friends. Spud is still struggling to find anything in his life besides heroin and is on the brink of suicide both to end the embarassment he causes his beloved Gail and their son and because it seems like the next logical step in his tragicomic life. Sickboy is living about as scummily as expected; blackmailing older men by filming them in trysts with his Eastern European ‘girlfriend’, spuriously promising her madame status in a brothel he hopes to build in the sad old man pub he inherited. Renton’s return and the escape from prison by their psychotic associate Begbie, prompts hair-brained schemes, fitful new senses of purpose and promises of revenge. The plot is pretty loose, but so was that of the original and T2 is actually more interesting when the boys are hanging around fecklessly than it is when they’re trying to get that brothel going, or when Begbie is trying to get back into the crime game.
Funny and even poignant when it sticks to the hangout vibe, structural problems and other issues outside the narrative are what drag the film down. The need to reintroduce characters first to the audience and then to each other means that it takes a while to get going. Keeping Begbie separate from the other characters for so long robs him of a lot of menace. The mate-who-is-not-actually-a-mate can’t have the fear of kicking off at any time if he isn’t actually around, and leaving him to his own devices leaves him prone to becoming a cartoonish figure. When Begbie and Renton finally collide, it’s tense and exciting and dangerous, when they’re apart, well, Begbie needs Viagra and Renton persues a heatless affair with Sickboy’s Bulgarian mistress Veronika. Danny Boyle always has a few striking images in his back pocket and a good way with his actors, but some of his whip pans and freeze frames here are more like disco dad dancing as far as show-off direction goes.
The constant flashbacks leave the film in danger of feeling less like a Trainspotting sequel and more like a Trainspotting clipshow. But the grace to see the sadness in its own nostalgia helps keep the eyes from rolling too hard. Sickboy calls Renton a tourist in his own past, and as the boys party and pontificate on a drug binge, Veronika notes how the British are determined to live in the past. There is definitely still life in the performers of Trainspotting, still capable of getting the odd shock and some big laughs. But it feels like even the film, the filmmaker and the cast know that they’re better off looking forward.(3 / 5)