Director: Danny Boyle
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The classic call is that the greatest sequel of all time is Godfather II – some prefer it to the original film, but even those that do know it needs that first Godfather to inform it; we are interested in the younger Don Corleone played by Robert De Niro because we were fascinated by the Don that Marlon Brando had etched onto the screen a couple of years earlier.
If there’s a challenger to that crown, I’m calling T2 Trainspotting, the 20-year on sequel to one of the best (and most influential) films of the 1990s.
The original cast, the same writer and director return – and it not only works. It’s both its own thing and a clever set of call-backs and reminders, almost a remix in places, the way frames from the original film are used in flashback, and blur, the way the music from the original music is recontextualised (Eno), slowed (Underworld) or used as a reminder (Iggy Pop).
Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller are wooden actors for mine, but both were brilliant in the original Trainspotting and they fall back, nicely, into those roles – a zinging chemistry between the two of them as well; mates with baggage, with history, with frustrations, with different takes on nostalgia.
Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlyle have both played roles as strong – or stronger – than their Trainspotting characters (and in both cases, before and after both films in the franchise) but they are wholly electric as Spud and Begbie respectively – and it’s their acting and their characters motivations that give this sequel its weight and full emotional arc.
T2 can’t dazzle as the original did, there’s not amphetamine-fuelled rush here…but that’s exactly the point. They’ve done that. In their early 20s. And in the last two decades life has addled handles, left emotional and physical scarring – they’re slower now, overcoming the brutality of their youth, lumbering through life in an aim to either correct the mistakes of the past or profit better from sneakier, sharper moves.
Renton (McGregor) is back to visit and make amends – we remember he skipped town at the end of the first film with most of the $16k they scored from the heroin deal. He left $4grand in a lock-up for Spud. Spud used that for more H and then fucked his life up slowly, and then quickly, ever since. Sick Boy (Miller) bitterly plays pool in the pub he inherited, his slow death is punctuated by standover tactics blackmailing businessmen who use the services of his ‘girlfriend’ while secretly being taped. This and other material comes from the official Trainspotting sequel, Porno. Other bits of the script are from the original novel – still more is imagined or just loosely based on the Irvine Welsh source material. Welsh is back to reprise his terribly-acted cameo as Mikey Forrester. And in Spud’s newfound abilities as a writer we sense the character that junkie Welsh based on himself, or at least the character evolution that screenwriter John Hodge has lined up.
Renton and Sick Boy have another scheme/scam and Begbie breaks jail to come after Rent. Spud is the tragic hero of course.
But wrapped up in all of this is the powerful passing of two decades – the fact that you can never (quite) go back; the fact that for all that you may Choose Life, life often chooses something else for you; the fact that your ‘friends’ might not stay that way – there’s sadness (in the most correct sense/use of the word ‘nostalgia’).
It’s as if the decision to wait – so long, and base the story on the same characters who have, by whim of timing, aged naturally – is T2’s secret (or not so secret) strength.
The new songs don’t sell the movie in the way that the soundtrack for the original did – but hey, maybe that’s a comment too on how old fucks might view the new world. And if not, the script, the acting, the tension, the motivations, the nostalgia, the pathos, the subtle majesty all makes up for an average score, if you’ll pardon the pun.