Undeniably fun, this nostalgia trip lacks any of the balls of the original
“Hello Mark,” offers Jonny Lee Miller’s bottle-blond Simon tersely as Ewan McGregor’s Renton turns up in the empty pub in which he’s almost needlessly pouring pints in the outskirts of Edinburgh. “So what have you been up to... for 20 years?”
It’s an appropriate question to ask, with T2: Trainspotting taking 21 years to arrive on screens, a long-awaited and much-delayed follow-up to the movie that can best be summed up as Britpop meets heroin chic, by way of gross-out humour and shades of horror. Danny Boyle’s 1996 take on Irvine Welsh’s book is a benchmark film of the final decade of the 20th century, a celluloid rendering of the hangover of Iron Ladylike conservatism on British cities coming face to face with the chemically stimulated confidence of youth. All played off against a punchy visual style and soundtrack, and a celebrated monologue so perfect that’s it’s near impossible to not become pro-choices when McGregor demands you to live life.
T2, very much its own judgment day for the four characters at the centre of the story, kicks off by quickly filling us in on how Renton, Sickboy, Spud and Begbie have spent the last two decades. Having betrayed his friends and walked off into the future with the money from their drug deal, Renton’s settled down in Amsterdam, replacing the cardio of legging it while waxing philosophical from Edinburgh security guards for the treadmill, with a palpable sense that despite how far he runs, he’s not going anywhere.
Simon, between lines of coke, is running an extortion racket with his Bulgarian... business associate Veronika, blackmailing the more affluent middle-class clientele of the city’s vice ring. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a pitiable drug addict, longing for family life with wife Shirley Henderson and their son, though at least his wardrobe of charity shop hand-me-downs is something every Edinburgh hipster would envy.
And finally there’s Robert Carlyle’s Begbie, an imprisoned psychopath and occasional charmer, a fuse so short he’s like Joe Pesce’s Goodfellas “Funny how?” scene performed by a suicide bomber. After years spent serving at her majesty’s pleasure, he’ll find a suitably stupid way to break out and reconnect with his wife and son, as well as Renton and the lads, where old grudges mix with sociopathic rage.
Robert Carlyle returns as Begbie, who has not mellowed in middle-age [Facebook]
It’s all very funny stuff, though fails to hold up to any kind of scrutiny. Boyle frames the film with his trademark Trainspotting visuals, a heady mix of shots confronting the realism of life on the fringes of legality and flights of surreal fancy. But with 20 years of polish on top of them, they lack the breathtaking wallop of the original. Whole plot strands built up across the first hour get completely abandoned (Renton’s health, Begbie on the lam, Sickboy’s plans for a brothel, Spud’s addiction), leading to a rushed ending that, if anything, lacks any of the balls that the film purports to have.
Still, there are a handful of shocking moments, enough interesting visuals, and an undeniably hilarious musical ode to the Battle of the Boyne that is so brazenly funny that it’s easy to overlook some of the spottiness of T2.
Verdict: ★★★☆☆ Great fun to be had along the way, but T2: Trainspotting taps more firmly into the comfort of nostalgia than on the veins of what made its blood flow 20 years ago.
T2: Trainspotting (18/117mins) is released nationwide on January 27th.