T2: Trainspotting *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Danny Boyle.
Written by: John Hodge based on the novels by Irvine Welsh.
Starring: Ewan McGregor (Renton), Jonny Lee Miller (Simon), Robert Carlyle (Begbie / Begbie's Father), Ewen Bremner (Spud), Anjela Nedyalkova (Veronika), Shirley Henderson (Gail), Kelly Macdonald (Diane).
Let’s get this out of the way off the top – no, we really didn’t need a 20 years later sequel to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting – the film that really made his career as a director, and made Ewan McGregor into a star. When I re-watched the film recently – for probably the 6th or 7th time – but the first time since about 17 years – I was once again sucked into the propulsive energy of the film, while at the same time I saw the film differently than I did as a teenager – I liked these people less, and their journey wasn’t as romantic as it once seemed. I have a feeling that the filmmakers felt the same way, because the awkwardly titled T2: Trainspotting (why not just Trainspotting 2?) really is a more melancholy experience than the first film – a film about how it may be romantic to be young and lost, but it’s really kind of pathetic to be that way in your mid-40s. Boyle doesn’t try to shoot the film with the same, constant drumbeat of energy as before, and his characters seem more tired than anything else. There is once again a plot with a scam at the center of it – but everyone’s going through the motions even more than they did in the first film. I surprised myself by how much I liked the film.
The setup is simple – 20 years after Renton (McGregor) double crossed his friends Simon (Johnny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremmer) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), take the 16,000 quid from their big score for himself, and fleeing Scotland, he returns. Spud has bounced on-and-off heroin for all those years, and immediately forgives Renton (he, after all, could have joined Renton all those years ago). Simon seemingly forgives him as well – at first he’s pissed, but he figures he can use Renton for his own purposes – opening up a “spa” aka brothel, with his new, younger “girlfriend” Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Begbie has spent all these years in jail, and is pissed, and escapes and is more pissed, and then finds out Renton is back, and is event more pissed than that.
I think the way T2: Trainspotting works is because it doesn’t delude itself into thinking these guys were ever going to grow up and turn themselves into anything all that useful. Spud may be lovable – but he’s also the weakest of the group – a guy who is a horrible father, and partner to Gail (Shirley Henderson). Simon was always a conman, and he was never really going to change. Begbie was a psycho 20 years ago, and all that time in prison won’t help. Renton at least had the right idea – get out, get away from everyone and everything you know, give yourself a chance. Even that didn’t really work. When he comes back, he falls into his old habits – and the movie knows that this a regression more than anything else. McGregor is excellent here, as a man reeling from a life that is falling apart – and wasn’t that good to begin with – trying to recapture some of that youth.
What this does mean about T2: Trainspotting is that the film is nowhere near as fun or entertaining as the original film – and it doesn’t try to be. By Boyle standards, the direction is subdued (so by most people standards, it’s still pretty amped, but definitely tamer than normal). T2: Trainspotting clearly won’t have the same cultural impact its predecessor did – this isn’t a film made for the college age crowd the first one was, complete with poster that adorned every dorm room imaginable. This is a film for those people, who 20 years later, are still confused, and don’t know where to go with their lives. That can be fun in your 20s – by your 40s, that just sad. And T2: Trainspotting knows that.