No matter how you look at it, Trainspotting will forever be seen as a British classic. Released in 1996 and based on the novel Trainspotting by legendary writer Irvine Welsh, Danny Boyle’s gritty, funny and stylish film took the British film industry to new heights and spearheaded the careers of its leading men Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlisle and Johnny Lee Miller. 20 years later, the gang is back together and once again in the capable hands of Boyle. But is T2 Trainspotting going to follow in the same footsteps of countless other ‘hits’ by releasing a lacklustre sequel that is detrimental to the original?
No. No chance. For starters, it’s loosely based on Irvine’s sequel novel Porno and is clearly not a regurgitated idea to help fill up the cinemas. Which is a relief to say the least. The characters who left us wanting to see so much more last time around are navigating their way around a strong and believable storyline. Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are as truthful and as ‘alive’ as ever and have certainly helped to put my burning questions from the first film to bed. What happened to Mark? Has Begbie mellowed? Or is he still a violent and tenacious delinquent still bitter about their last encounter? Now, I’m not into giving away spoilers so I’ll do my best to avoid those answers by sidestepping them and instead instructing you to go and see the film straight away as you will not be disappointed.
The film starts with Mark (Ewan McGregor) returning to Edinburgh 20 years on, to make amends with his friends and to visit his father. Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) have contrasting welcome parties for him as you can expect with neither forgiving him for his actions at the end of the last film. Whilst Mark is walking around the forgotten streets of Leith, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes from prison, reunites with his family and later learns of Mark’s return. After meeting Sick Boy’s kind-of girlfriend Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova) and reluctantly accepting a joint venture with his former best friend, Renton is pulled back onto a similar road to nowhere, a road he trod all those years ago as it becomes clear that choosing life didn’t work out.
So what works? It should go without saying that the performances are wonderful and everything that we’d all hoped. I briefly touched upon it earlier, the leading men are still magnificent and their performances are equally as entertaining as they are devastating. Just as fun are the supporting cast, especially Begbie’s wife June (Pauline Turner) and Frank Junior (Scott Greenan) who share some wonderfully funny, awkward and touching scenes with Robert Carlyle and there are some lovely cameos that will put a smile on the face of any Trainspotting fan. And on that note, there is more than a hint of nostalgia in the sequel, as you’d expect. I really dislike films that are too reliant on nostalgia and cameos but T2 is done so beautifully and is so poignant and believable that it just makes you want to continue watching. From Tommy running up the mountain, to freeze frames of Begbie shouting and even Mark’s untouched bedroom, the pulse of Trainspotting continues to beat life into T2 throughout without it simply being a film based around memories. One of my favourite scenes in the film is the flashback to an even earlier memory, the appearance of Begbie’s Dad which offers you the slightest of insights to the life of the feared hard-man and is yet another touching moment in a sequel that is as sad as it is entertaining.
There are moments in the film that didn’t sit as well with me but admittedly, only few. At times, Begbie is almost seen as a comic bad-man which of course he isn’t. Carlyle’s comic sense and timing is excellent don’t get me wrong but would we have been laughing at a man who throws punches and glasses with little care for the consequences 20 years ago? I can’t imagine so. Also, the soundtrack. The soundtrack in Trainspotting is iconic. In fact, it is just as iconic as Renton swimming deep down into a toilet of faeces and a dead, neglected baby crawling on the ceiling, so how does the soundtrack in T2 compare? Well, as Danny Boyle said at the beginning of the screening (not bragging-I swear!) how could it live up to it this time around? A highlight for me was the slower paced Born Slippy as Spud is looking around the streets of Edinburgh simply wondering “where the time has gone” and “what could have been”. Again, it’s still a very good soundtrack but it does not have the same identity as the original. Something, I have to say that reflects the world we live in more than the film. Boyle makes a well timed joke aimed at the current nightclub scene, Born Slippy has been replaced by Radio Ga Ga and none of the men can really get their heads around what the hell is going on.
Overall T2 Trainspotting is a fast paced, punchy sequel that doesn’t disappoint. It’s not as good as Trainspotting but how could it be? More importantly though, it doesn’t rely on the current trend of nostalgia and cameos that the world seems to be obsessed with and it serves up everything that we would have hoped for.
T2 Trainspotting is released on 27th January by TriStar Pictures.
Watch the trailer here