Danny Boyle tackles his first sequel with the amusingly titled T2 Trainspotting, a downright entertaining follow-up that catches up with the troubled, drug-using Edinburgh dwellers we met in 1996’s Trainspotting. It’s somewhat bizarre to receive a sequel to a film like Trainspotting, but if you’re going to do it, tackle it with the same creative team: Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge again adapting a novel by Irvine Welsh.
It’s been 20 years. Spud (Ewen Bremner) isn’t doing too well. Not well at all, actually. His addiction to heroine has left him with very little to live for. Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) is getting by, more or less, running scams with his sort-of girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is as insane and unhinged as ever. Don’t think that jail cell will hold him. And then there’s Renton (Ewan McGregor), seemingly doing very well for himself, back in Scotland after years abroad. If Renton thinks the past will remain behind him, he’s got another thing coming.
The ’96 film hit hard, in both its dark humour and in-your-face grit and emotion. Sure, this sequel doesn’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor, but that original pic is one hell of a win to try and replicate. T2 doesn’t attempt to redo the plot or tackle the same type of beats, which admittedly means you may find it lacks in direct comparison. Nevertheless, this is a different type of beast; a fast-moving follow-up that ensures it ticks off the right boxes for those wanting a continuation of the story we left on and another round on the cinematic high that is Boyle’s POV of this off-centre world and the unconventional individuals that live in it.
Boyle hits the ground running as though he’s been just itching at the bit to revisit Renton and the gang. His passion for these characters and the often-insane scenarios they find themselves in is more than clear; every scene is crafted with care, precision and gusto, work from a film veteran still in love and excited with the medium. All manner of technique is on offer here, with wildly creative camera work and chaotic-yet-gleefully-entertaining editing from Jon Harris (Snatch, The Descent). From the pumping soundtrack to the artistic production design, Boyle and co. keep the screen alive with energy, making an almost two-hour run-time fly by.
As enjoyable as everything is, the narrative itself does leave you wanting – even slightly. There just isn’t that oomph, that punch to the gut that nailed the first film right into the memory bank. The plot here certainly carries an adult crowd-pleasing balance of drama and comedy, and even action, but plot points fly in and out at a pace that barely allows for much reflection. To be clear, you will care, but perhaps not on the level that the film needs to deliver another ace.
Some of the plot turns ““ such as a story arc that finds certain characters looking to secure European development funds in order to establish a leisure club ““ are simply wobbly, easy narrative strands on which to structure some funny or dramatic character beats. Kudos are in order then for the film’s determination to tie in moments to the first film (even if it slightly overdoes it) and to our characters’ childhoods, snippets that provide the emotional backbone occasionally lacking throughout some of the more brutal scenes.
McGregor, Miller, Bremner and Carlyle are once again fantastic, maturing ““ scratch that – ageing their characters perfectly. These roles fit them like gloves, and they still wear them well after around twenty years. These are physical and layered roles, and they benefit from the cast’s willingness to go all out. Carlyle, in particular, puts in very solid work. Nedyalkova is also worthy of a mention, her effortless charm providing a nice distinction from the insanity of these men.
T2 Trainspotting succeeds where so many sequels fail. Despite the occasional flimsy plot point or softly delivered jab, the film provides a dramatic, hilarious, sad, joyously non-PC cinematic high, one that should please the first chapter’s many fans.