Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by John Hodge
When I sat down to revisit 1996’s Trainspotting, a film I had not seen in some time, I was excited at the prospect to see it again, mostly because I wanted to re-evaluate it coming into Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting, a sequel 20 years in the making. But also because I wanted to make sure I was in the right place, narratively, to fully enjoy the sequel. After seeing T2, I would certainly recommend seeing Trainspotting first, as it helps give a lot of context to the proceedings and really enhances the experience of getting to spend more time with Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie once again. These are memorable characters if you combine the two films and take their journey as a whole, as opposed to two separate stories. Seeing this film in context made it all the better, but I still left wondering whether a sequel was really truly necessary at all.
When we left these friends, Renton (Ewan McGregor) had just robbed his friends, Begbie (Robert Carlyle), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Spud (Ewan Bremner) of the cash they got from a drug deal. Now 20 years later, Renton, having kicked his heroin addiction to enjoy a normal life in Amsterdam, returns to Edinburgh to find his friends in various states of disarray. Spud is still struggling with his drug addiction. Begbie is serving a 25 year jail sentence, before he breaks out to hunt down Renton. And Simon (Sick Boy) is running an unsuccessful pub while conducting various illegal affairs on the side for money. Renton attempts to reconnect with his friends, but the sour taste he left them with becomes a struggle as they try to find what brought them all together and made them happy in the first place.
What made Trainspotting great was that it was a jolt to the system, so to speak. Boyle’s style was so fresh and exciting, and the youthful exuberance was so electrifying, as McGregor’s Renton character decided to “choose life”. Much of that freshness has gone in the sequel, T2 Trainspotting, much in part to the fact that Boyle has gone on to become a successful film director. His style is no longer new, so every attempt to insert energy into the film just feels like something we’ve seen before, and it doesn’t work quite as well in middle age. The baggage left behind from the first film makes for a compelling story to be told, but too often the characters feel like caricatures, which these now famous actors are putting on instead of performing. They feel too far removed at times.
That being said, I think Boyle and company have a lot to say about the effects of drug addiction long after the worst of it has passed. We see four characters in various states of disrepair, and it proves that you can’t just quit with no ill effect. But at the core of this film is the friendship between these characters. What brings them back to one another, keeps them friends even after all these years? It is in this exploration that the film excels most, providing more than a few really poignant moments. Unfortunately it gets lost along the way at times as well, focused on call backs, or characters moments that feel inserted just to give the actors some scenery to chew on, the detriment of having to assemble a now famous cast to do a sequel to a now famous film from their distant past. Much of it feels unnecessary.
It lacks the energy and freshness of Trainspotting, and finds lulls far too often to be considered a great movie, or even just a great follow up. But that being said, having just rewatched the original soon before seeing this one, Renton, Simon, Spud, and Begbie are all characters I enjoy spending time with, and each has something to say about the state of drug addiction and its effects. It’s a varied cast of characters played by very capable actors who make them into memorable. These are not throwaway parts. It’s a bit unfair to cast T2 Trainspotting off for simply not being as good as its predecessor. It’s not as good and that is disappointing, but T2 is still a good movie. Just as the characters have deficiencies, so too does the film, but in many ways that is precisely why I care as much as I do about them.