Suffice to say, returning to a beloved classic, especially when it’s one of the most iconic British films ever, is always an affair fraught with danger. In the case of T2, the presence of all the original cast members, plus original director Danny Boyle and author Irvine Welsh, suggests from the start that they weren’t likely to drop the ball on this one. This is no money-grabbing sequel, but a continuation of the themes and atmospheric milieu of the original, thrust along by the same hyped-up style.
Unsurprisingly for a gang of junkies and lowlifes, the previous twenty years have not been kind to the original characters of Trainspotting. The opening credits introduce us to Renton (Ewan MacGregor), now a moderately successful accountant in Amsterdam, but we quickly discover the rest of the gang have either stood still or moved backwards; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) now runs an empty pub whilst blackmailing headteachers and minor public figures; Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has been in prison for 20 years; Spud (Ewen Bremner) remains a hopeless junkie, but still the sweetest and kindest of the bunch. The plot picks up as Renton returns to Edinburgh, visiting his old haunts amidst a changed capital. Sick Boy, still hurt by Renton’s betrayal at the end of the first film, ropes Renton into a project to turn his pub into a ‘sauna’, to be managed by his Bulgarian prostitute girlfriend, Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova), whilst plotting his revenge. Begbie, escaping from prison, finds out about Renton’s return, and sets about plotting his own retribution.
The script, written by John Hodge, does an excellent job of implementing Irvine Welsh’s style whilst fully imagining how these characters might have turned out in twenty years, aided by the passing of time etching itself into the bodies of each of the four principal actors. Carlyle, with his salt-and-pepper hair and slightly rotund belly, looks every inch a psychopathic convict on the run, whilst Bremner, with his wide open gape and skinny frame, looks exactly like someone who has lived a lifetime of struggle against his own demons. Only MacGregor looks in any way sane. Meanwhile Danny Boyle is at the top of his game as a director; he’s long been an exceptionally talented, if occasionally over-excitable, director, who can be quite lax in his project choices, but the formal elements of T2 are always in service of the film’s characters, full of expressionistic touches like distorted lensing, dark, looming shadows, and tense, sharp editing.
For all that, there are some major weak spots. Kelly MacDonald returns in a short a cameo and feels shoehorned in, whilst T2’s lead female character, Veronica, exists primarily to spark personal revelations in the male protagonists. The main element lacking is the slice-of-life feel of the original. Trainspotting was a character study of four lowlife friends with a minor plot about a drug score tacked on, whereas T2 spends more time than needed on structuring itself. The characters exist as part of the plot here, whereas previously they existed with or without it, and most of us couldn’t care less, because their presence was so full and entertaining.
Thankfully, Renton et al. are still a lot of fun to be around. T2 is not an instant classic in the vein of the first film, but it’s a more than worthwhile successor.
words FEDOR TOT