Set twenty years after the original film, director Danny Boyle brings back Renton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewan Bremner), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and a few other familiar faces in this sequel based on Irvine Welsh’s books Porno and of course, Trainspotting. It sees Renton return to a modern Edinburgh, checking in on both Spud and Sick Boy and eventually joining the latter’s plan to open a sauna/extortion racket. Meanwhile, Begbie breaks loose and, as can be expected, it out for vengeance.
The main theme of T2 is getting old and living in the past and for the most part, this is achieved competently, the most affecting moment being a scene with Spud alone on a street, remembering the past and it is made clear throughout the film that the characters are living in a modern world, with Edinburgh’s new tram system (Tramspotting? Oh, come on, someone had to say it eventually!) and a questionably designed parliament building. We are also treated to an updated “choose life” speech that says a lot about modern life, with the inevitable references to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The cast are all good sports, no chemistry has been lost and they all settle back into their characters quite nicely: Robert Carlyle is still on top nasty form as the psychotic Begbie, fresh from Elementary Jonny Lee Miller has a lot more to do as Simon/Sick Boy and Ewan Bremner delivers an extraordinary amount of heart and soul as lovable Spud. It was also nice to see a few other familiar faces, though Peter Mullan unfortunately doesn’t show up, and new face Anjela Nedyalkova does well as Sick Boy’s girlfriend Veronika. It’s a shame though that Kelly MacDonald is pretty much reduced to a cameo (though including her any more might have been a bit excessive and she does get in a fitting final jab at Renton’s questionable taste in girls) and that Shirley Henderson is completely wasted. There was great potential to explore her relationship with Spud, providing a compelling storyline, but Henderson only gets a single line and the opportunity for some real depth is quickly abandoned.
But on the other hand, Begbie is allowed some very interesting character development that explains how he became the man he is, without the point being hammered home or emotionally manipulative in any way. It is a brief moment that very effectively and admirably shines a light onto his character. And on a similar note, the film often reminds us that these characters have known each other since they were kids, more so than Trainspotting actually did, providing many affecting, emotional moments between the main characters.
T2 is also well directed, the cinematography is great and the special effects are very pleasing to the eye.
So the big question is: was a sequel really necessary? Answer: not really. Much of the film simply involves recapping what happened in the previous film, firstly with Sick Boy telling his girlfriend what Renton did and eventually with Spud writing a story about it all, literally telling us exactly what happened before: “then Begbie threw a glass over the balcony, then Renton left with the money, then he gave me £4,000 . . .” Ultimately, the story doesn’t really go anywhere, doesn’t have much new to say and it’s perhaps too similar to what we’ve seen before.
In addition, footage from the first film is somewhat overused and a generous number of shots are framed in the exact same way as they were before. Granted, it is comforting to see little nudges here and there that reference what we loved about Trainspotting but it perhaps gets to the point when it is all thrown in our faces, Danny Boyle essentially shouting at us “remember this?!” As a film all about clinging to the past, T2 can’t stop referring to the twenty year old original.
T2 is also relatively tame and not as shocking or provocative as it could have been; the strong language goes unnoticed, sex scenes are few and far between and drug use is relatively light. Obviously, this is a very different kind of film, not really meant to be as anarchic and wild as the first one but I felt as though they were holding back somewhat. Saying all that though, there is done pretty bold violence used, particularly during Renton and Sick Boy’s first meeting. The soundtrack is also not particularly memorable, though the use of Blondie’s “Dreaming” for the “fixing things up” montage is great.
And it’s also worth pointing out that an important plot point involves EU funding. Make of that what you will.