Danny Boyle’s follow-up to the unforgettable, generation-defining ‘Trainspotting’ is an often uninspired yet largely enjoyable work, wrought with many of the same tensions as its predecessor.
When the now 40-something protagonists assemble to honour the untimely demise of their old friend Tommy, a bitter back-and-forth exchange examining one another’s deepest, darkest afflictions ensues. Sick Boy in ever irreverent fashion castigates Renton, “you’re a tourist in your own youth”. Each character is embattled in their own unique way by both their pasts and their futures. If Trainspotting was an expression of unadulterated hedonism and adolescent rage then T2 is a (middle-aged) coming of age tale soaked in disappointment, unfulfillment, emasculation and regret.
Ewan McGregor reprises his role as the charismatic Renton. The opening scene unapologetically pays homage to the iconic original opening sequence, except this time instead of pounding the pavements as a havoc-wreaking, heroin-addicted delinquent, a 2017 audience sees a buffer, more refined Renton ‘come up’ from incessant exercise on a treadmill only to ‘come down’ emphatically in a dramatic fall.
All but the affable Spud have kicked their heroin addictions to the kerb. Sick Boy AKA Simon now runs an extortion business alongside his self-described “girlfriend” Veronika who instead maintains the relationship is strictly commercial. Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), incarcerated for 20 years on a murder charge, decides to act and escapes from captivity in typical overtly grotesque, Begbian fashion.
Spud (Ewen Bremner), whose story grows to become the film’s emotional epicentre, is still seen to be grappling with his heroin addiction and his estranged wife and son typify this. Previously free-spirited, he much like his companions are at ends with this middle-aged, unrewarding life and sees his inability to look after his loved ones as the final blow. He attempts to commit suicide only for the messianic (or coincidental) return of Renton who saves his life in a scene only these sardonic characters can make comical and endearing. Begbie, to his horror, comes to realise his beloved son has no penchant for underworld endeavours and leaves him questioning himself as a father.
T2 is as much about the future as past, as glaringly as it threads in nostalgia. Renton had begun a new life in Amsterdam, attaining the normality he seeked 20 years previous in the form of a wife and steady nine-to-five employment in a small retail business. His abrupt return (unsatisfactorily teased out or explained) is the result of a breakdown with his marriage and he emotively visits his widowed father in his childhood home and embarks upon reuniting with his old friends.
The acting merits are there, with Jonny Lee Miller highly impressive in his commanding return as Sick Boy. Boyle imbues T2 with vintage British dry wit and cynical humour permeate throughout. The loyalist pub scene had cinemagoers in stitches, possibly even a contender for highlight of the movie. What this sequel lacks is a clear narrative to detach itself suitably from its iconic predecessor. Visually and aurally bashful, its plotline lacks some focus and its nostalgia, however enjoyable for a fan of the original, can be somewhat overbearing.
T2 climaxes suddenly with the blood-thirsty Begbie seeking to avenge Renton for stealing the drug loot 20 years previous. He has no qualms over Renton’s fate. Spud, inspired by his losses and by Veronika’s (Sick Boy’s partner-in-crime and later, Renton’s secret lover) encouragements begins to write his own stories. Short, colloquial etchings on his wall, each representing a memory of his and his friend’s pasts. The lovingly humorous, heart-breaking, tale of Spud ends heroically as he saves Renton and Simon from the psychopathic, revengeful Begbie.
Many heralded Boyle’s 1996 effort as a candid, witty, and masterful depiction of an unsung, unseen segment of post-Thatcher society. It took a vital, honest snapshot of 1990’s contemporary Britain and Scotland and this follow up was anticipated to do similarly but arguably does so only momentarily in Renton’s 2017 ‘choose life’ monologue. A fiercely conveyed reflection of the word as he sees it today, “choose Snapchat”, “choose Instagram”, “choose slut-shaming”.
Any lacklustre aspects of this follow-up are subdued by strong performances and a strong aesthetic and nostalgic appeal. What sometimes feels like a lazy caper is also an emotion-rich, colourful, thought-provoking meditation on middle-aged life and memories. The final scene which shows Renton re-enter his room, carefully play an old favourite (Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’) on his dusty record player and dance without inhibition, ends T2 on an uplifting note: we don’t necessarily need to ‘grow up’.