At the end of Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) absconds with £16,000, the spoils of a heroin deal, fleecing his friends in the process. In T2 Trainspotting, he returns for the ill-advised denouement, replacing the original film’s concern for wasted youth with a moribund nostalgia entertained by impotent, middle-aged men.1
Unfortunately, the main gist of the film seems to be ‘Remember Trainspotting‘? Key musical motifs (Underworld’s “Born Slippy” especially) recur as piecemeal spurs to memory along with other unending allusions, and while some of these callbacks may hit the mark2 they struggle to sustain the film over two hours. Even with this screening’s friendliest of audiences (content to roar and point out things they recognise), the constant use of archival footage, old scenes and what look like production stills from the 1996 original felt more like watching a director’s commentary than anything standalone.
The primary problem is that while the film’s emotional core rests upon the boys’ attempts to re-establish the relationships they destroyed, each of these character moments are singularly undeveloped. There’s barely any visual indication of affection beyond standard B-roll images of playgrounds and bedroom embraces (or in Renton’s case, an erstwhile look at a cameo character, never to be mentioned again). There is one character arc in the film played in the present without flashback and communicated physically (appropriately, it belongs to the barely verbal Begbie, still menacingly portrayed by Robert Carlyle) and its tenuous success is evidence of how the rest of it may have gone.
The plot is similarly lightweight: characters commit crimes like the original, with no real threat of arrest; relapse with heroin like the original, yet face no risk of overdose or disease. New relationships, even when they advance to sex, are chaste and uninteresting. From the beginning, the film proceeds terminally to a final reunion between the original cast which, like the rest of the film, is only a mechanism to introduce a flashback. It is a sad realisation that the most important event in T2 is the robbery at the end of T1, except it’s weightless now, stripped of the ambiguity of Renton’s departure and rendered inert by a new adventure without stakes.
The grit that defined the original film struggles to coexist with the expanded budget and Boyle’s now-sharpened sensibilities. Throwback features like GoPro-style POV shots from inanimate objects and freeze frames seem twee now, and the shiny new Edinburgh (as if filmed by David Attenborough) seems out of place. Any defence of this being the New Edinburgh, the one our lads are so unfit for, dissolves in light of their similarly sparkly makeovers. Spud’s (Ewen Bremner) apartment seems to have tripled in size, seems awfully clean for a junkie, and any dust or grime is swept away in smooth camera motions.
This kind of stylistic mismatch carries over to the script, which is similarly confused. T1’s comic cynicism is diluted and while the dark humour remains in spurts, it sits awkwardly against the melodramatic treatment of Spud’s redemption cycle.3 Speeches like Renton’s “Choose Life” are repeated, cultural references updated to include social media, but where the original read like a defiant manifesto, the new one comes out as the trickling ejaculate of a divorced, soon-to-be-redundant ex-accountant. Most egregious is Boyle’s decision to introduce literal text from Irvine Welsh’s original novel, as the withdrawal-induced writings of Spud, serving (at best) as an easter egg for fans of the novel and, at worst, another shameless mechanism to remind the audience of how much they enjoyed the last film.
That said, the music is gorgeous—the standout dimension of the film. While referential, it is T2’s least offensive nostalgia, and the sequences in the club (our middle aged heroes woefully out of depth) feel fresh. Same too for the film’s opening, where questionable narrative turns are justified by the pumping of the score. It’s apparent just how much sound drives these films’ kinetic quality and it’s such a shame then that the sequel should be so static.
The association between T2 and Trainspotting in the title makes sense when you read this film as a meditation on the original, but for this reason it’s unintelligible for new viewers, appropriate only for the superfan, and even then, an unsatisfying hit.