The anticipation for T2 Trainspotting has been great. The once hopeful ‘Cool Britannia’ generation that Trainspotting first tickled back in 1996 have been awaiting the sequel all chanting in unison, “please don’t fuck this one up”, over and over again. This is a familiar feeling in this era of sequels and reboots and perpetual franchise management and sustainment, from Ghostbusters to Star Wars. Luckily Trainspotting 2 is a Danny Boyle movie, and the director has a dependable reputation of ‘not fucking things up’. See the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony.
20 years after Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) ‘chose life’ and betrayed his friends by walking off with the money. Circumstances see him returning to Edinburgh and the streets of his youth. He reunites with the old gang. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is a 40 year old junkie and Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) attempts to blackmail rich old men by filming their sexual encounters with his girlfriend Veronika (Angela Nedyalkova). Reunited with the gang, the weight of time falls heavy, but they soon fall back to their old ways plotting new schemes to con the squares out of money. Meanwhile Begbie (Robert Carlyle) breaks out of prison just in time for Renton’s homecoming and may be out for revenge.
Trainspotting 2 was never going to hit the cultural zeitgeist in the way the first movie did. That’s a near impossible feat. But the movie realises this, in fact it’s kind of the point. It doesn’t seek to out-do the worst toilet in all of Scotland scene or the dead baby crawling along the ceiling of Renton’s bedroom. Trainspotting 2 is all about getting older. It’s about the world vastly changing around a group of people who have been largely unable to change with it.
Danny Boyle’s movies are usually always injected with a vivid energy, a full sense of the colour and action of life. From Trainspotting to Slumdog his movies have largely told stories of youthful abundance and lost innocence with his trademark style of kinetic surreal realism. Even when he is working more within a specific genre, as with 28 Days Later or Sunshine, there is always that sense of life fighting and dancing off the screen. Whether it comes from one man walking through a deserted London or the sun shining slightly brighter on a snowy morning. His movie are full of hope.
But since the story is about ageing and 20 years worth of regret it takes on such a more melancholy and bittersweet feeling. It is constantly making you feel that twenty year gap. It nails that feeling of the world changing around you, threatening to ruthlessly leave you behind whilst others take your place and relive your past lives, potentially better than you ever did yourself.
At every moment, the film is applying the immense weight of that 20 years. The movie opens with Renton running on a treadmill, interspliced with the shot of a younger Ewan McGregor walking away with the cash with a big delirious grin on his face, his whole life ahead of him. Similarly T2 reuses many of the most iconic locations of the first film now haunted with ghosts of the past. It uses the old familiar musical cues a slowed down version of Born Slippy, as Spud remembers two young lads running down the same streets he walks now.
The film is set in Edinburgh which has seen great change over the last two decades, becoming increasingly gentrified. You get glimpses of this in Trainspotting 2, part of the plot has the character attempt to capitalise on this movement in the hopes to gain money to fund the development of an authentic Scottish pub. For the most part, the film takes place in locations that haven’t been affected by this wave of new money. Derelict council flats, dingy pubs and apartments overlooking desolate junk yards. The old gang are seemingly positioned top of the pile of wrecked cars and rubble. The movie isn’t soft about it.
In one of the movie’s many highlights, Renton and Sick-Boy gatecrash a party of right wing nationalists celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, in order to steal their credit cards. Situations escalate to the point when they are both asked to perform an impromptu song and dance about killing catholics of which the party naturally goes nuts for. It shows a section of society that are unhealthily obsessed with the past.
Yet, in the next scene Renton and Sick-Boy explain to Veronika the glory of a football game in 1978. The juxtaposition seems to show that both parties, the alt-right scum bags and the supposedly wise guys who robbed them, are in essence stuck in the past, basking in the glow of nostalgia and past glories, whilst the world keeps spinning on indifferently.
Heroin was the drug in Trainspotting, but in Trainspotting 2 it is memory and nostalgia that carry the same intoxicating effects, preventing it’s users from moving forward in their own lives.
If there are criticisms, there are only niggles. Trainspotting 2 attempts to become a bit of a caper in it’s second half, but the plot feels very superfluous with the sudden plot point of a huge amount of money in the form of an EU loan. Luckily, the story remains most interesting when dealing with the more personal and volatile dynamics between it’s characters.
T2 is more focused on defining ageing from the male perspective. The female perspective is defined mainly by it’s absence. Each of the core group are paired off with a different kind of disappointed woman. Begbie is this bastion of toxic masculinity who can no longer get it up to please his wife. Spud is a junkie incapable of supporting his estranged family. Renton has the briefest exchange with an ex-girlfriend who is more successful and switched on that he will ever be. Another more poignant moment implies that Renton wasn’t around for the death of his mother.
Then you have Sick-Boy’s partner Veronika, a Bulgarian immigrant who kind of witnesses first hand what these male characters have become.
Veronika is the movie’s only real female lead, but she does become a Mary Sue styled character. She is quite obviously the quickest of the bunch, conveniently she is the first to criticise Renton and Sick-boy of living in the past, conveniently, she is the one to give Spud new found direction in life as a kind of street poet. Conveniently, she is the one to provide Renton with sexual gratification after he perfoms ‘Choose Life 2017 version’. At the same time, as the promise of sizeable chunk of money in the form of an EU loan comes into being, it’s very easy to see where the film is going to go.
That said, T2 Trainspotting hits in ways other films or sequels made years after the fact just don’t. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry and you will feel the crushing weight of the movement of time. But through it all, Trainspotting 2 ultimately proves that it is never too late to choose life.
T2: Trainspotting is the hangover that comes 20 years after the original movie. Effortlessly making the movement of time feel so real and bittersweet. There are many movies being made today that are attempting to capitalise on our collective nostalgia. A whole film industry is being fuelled by the pursuit of that nostalgia money. Whilst it can be good to revisit the past, should we dwell there to long we begin to become stuck and stagnated and incapable of moving forward. This is what the sequel to Trainspotting is all about. It’s a hangover worth having.