For the film that never needed a sequel, T2: Trainspotting offers a brave, passionate attempt to follow Trainspotting. ‘It had better not be shite.’ – they told director Danny Boyle on set and echoes through the seats in cinemas. 20 years after the film which inspired a generation, fans eagerly wait as Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie meet again where it all began. And as it turns out, not much has changed.
Renton runs to pounding beats on a treadmill, unrecognisable with shoulder-length hair – visibly (and inevitably) more middle-aged man than angsty teenager. This is probably just a comparable adrenaline rush that indicates a healthy development from Ewan McGregor’s fiery 1996 heroin addict. Or maybe not, as he thuds to the floor two minutes into the film and this abrupt fall is only the beginning of Renton’s sobering downfall. It seems that you can’t really escape your demons after all.
Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie follow suit, as T2 is tinted with heavy nostalgia which unfolds inescapable destruction for the gang, honing in on the utterly devastating sadness of Trainspotting, a side that is sometimes forgotten.
The first part of the film nods to the past while pushing its characters towards a somewhat more stable future. Renton saves Spud’s life, Sick Boy is now just Simon and Begbie is behind bars. The effects of Renton’s disappearance 20 years ago are taking their toll and each of the friends seems, if not happy, a bit more grown up.
But this illusionary glimpse of maturity is quickly abandoned and it’s back to business with sex, drugs, violence – and a lot of running. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it then begs the question as to what T2’s aim is at all. Renton feels confused and flimsy, as his return home sees no real motivation. He says he’s given up heroin, but he doesn’t seem better off for it. His meagre screen time as an adrenaline junkie is hardly believable and he spends the rest of it going through the motions – running away from Begbie, running after Simon’s girlfriend, but never running quite fast enough to be convincing.
Simon’s girlfriend, Veronika, adds another player to the confusing game that T2 plays. With such rich characters that clearly have a lot of unsolved business, why throw in a token Bond Girl-esque gal-pal, while just giving Diane a rogue cameo? Veronika ties the characters together and seems to provide the rationale that the foursome is missing – but this is what makes T2 feel like the sibling struggling with an identity crisis, rather than the grown-up relative which fans were craving.
The film pushes and pulls between loyalty, betrayal and opportunity; while this makes for an interesting and complex narrative setup, it also creates a vastly ambitious canvas on which the details slip messily between the gaps. Boyle’s kinetic filmmaking sees its apogee though, in an energetic display of choppy editing and clever visuals which gives T2 the technical richness Trainspotting never knew it needed.
Whether T2 succeeds in its goals is unclear, because its very intentions still feel uncertain. A new story is opened and the attempt at a feeble psychological makeover is toyed with, but ultimately the joy of T2 comes from its tall respect of its predecessor, as well as the fan service that comes with it.
T2 is a lot of fun, brimming with passion from onscreen players and off. The chemistry between the Trainspotting veterans is incredibly satisfying and sees some of the film’s best moments, made even more poignant by a clever and careful soundtrack. The explicit gestures towards the original can at times be tiring (maybe after the fourth teaser of Underworld’s remix), but coming to T2 and leaving happy inevitably relies on Trainspotting sitting in your pocket to see you through it.
While the new narrative doesn’t fully stand up on its own, T2 is explosive in its energy and respectful in its tribute. To make a bigger splash at the box office, it may have needed a more extreme makeover – but then it loses its charm. Born Slippy, the worst toilet in Edinburgh, seeing Renton, taking heroin, choosing life, knowing Diane, and living the colour orange – the things that have become branded as Trainspotting memorabilia are what give T2 its spirit and merit.
Although it’s not ground-breaking, it’s not in fact ‘shite’. T2 does what it can, indulging fans and closing a story respectfully. The current generation remains unchanged, but the Trainspotting flame now burns again. Some will love it, some will find it infuriating – but we asked for more Trainspotting and we got it. Kind of.
Originally published on Epigram