Sequels are usually a dodgy prospect in the best of circumstances; with T2 Trainspotting coming along more than two decades after 1996 original which had become an immediate cultural touchstone of the time, only puts it that much more of a disadvantage. In this case we have something remarkable, not only one of the best films of the year so far, but also a worthy successor to the first film.
Director Danny Boyle has brought the original gang back together for another installment in the story of the lives of four frenemies Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle).
When the first film had ended, Mark had skipped town and left his friends holding the bag while he took £16,000 of the foursome’s drug money. Using it to start a new life far away from the slums of Edinburgh, Mark became clean and got married. The sequel opens with Mark running on a treadmill at a hipster gym, only to collapse from a heart attack – the irony not lost that the once-hardcore heroin addict should suddenly nearly die only after becoming healthy. He recovers, but is shaken by the experience and decides to return home to try and make amends for his abandoning and stealing from his old crew.
They’re still there, Begbie in prison, Spud still a heroin addict and ready to commit suicide, and Sick Boy is running blackmail cons with the help of his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyakova). Mark comes across them, and none of them are too happy to see him, ranging from Spud’s anger at Mark’s interrupting his suicide attempt to the others just being angry Mark’s not dead yet.
Of them all, Mark has his life most together, but that’s not really saying much, and in fact while he’s kept his head above water – it’s only been by the thinnest of margins. There’s a brilliant rant by Mark at one point to Veronika on the futility of the old catchphrase “Choose Life”.
The original film was a forced look at the poverty-stricken and drug-addicted youth of the late 90s. This film touches on it’s long-term impact on lives, but still avoids preaching about it. If there’s any moral to this story (strangely relating to another film opening this week but infinitely less successful, Wilson), that the quest for one’s past can become just as much of an obsessive addiction as any drug.
There’s some redemptions to be found here, but the strength of the performances keeps them from feeling cheaply earned. Any step into the light any of these four might make is done through pain and struggle.
Some of the cinematography is amazing, with a moment with Spud battling early-stage withdrawal in his apartment, hunting through the carpet for grains of something to shoot. We see him at another point sitting in the corner, but his earlier shadow if him digging for the drugs still casting around him on the wall like the ghost of his demons.
Mark, Spud, and Veronika come off as being good people in bad circumstances, while Sick Boy and Begbie are bad people who only fleetingly have a spark of humanity come through – only to be squashed by themselves or their surroundings.
The film is well made, occasionally funny, and makes its points. Looking back on the original, no, this will never be a classic the original was, but then if the original was made now, it wouldn’t be a classic either. Times have changed, and our look back on on older classic has tinted our views of it. But while this one may not be one for the ages, it is one to be watched alongside the other and it expands on the original’s breadth.
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