Writer: John Hodge (screenplay), Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting & Porno novels)
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova
Running time: 117mins
What’s the story: Twenty years after Mark Renton (McGregor) stole £16,000 from his friends, he returns to Edinburgh from Amsterdam. Recovering junky Spud (Bremner) is happy to see him, and Simon aka Sick Boy (Lee Miller), running a failing pub, tries to get Mark involved in a plan to open a massage parlour. But, the psychopathic Begbie, out of prison after a long stretch, seeks revenge.
What’s the verdict: “Nostalgia is why you’re here.” So Sick Boy, now known as Simon, spits at Renton on a trip to the Scottish countryside.
Twenty-one years after the era defining Trainspotting (and fourteen years after Irvine Welsh’s sequel novel Porno, largely ignored here) the gang’s all back, on both sides of the camera. And it feels like yet another nostalgic go-round. Like the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Or that Porridge do-over.
The original Trainspotting proved British cinema could possess the cinematic verve of vintage Scorsese, and married council estate grittiness with magical realism. T2 rings inauthentic, with a misjudged car chase and a hospital escape best illustrating how director Danny Boyle cannot balance the tone this time.
An excursion to Glasgow for a bit of Scottish nationalism, thievery and an impromptu song and dance number, plus a late in the film nod to Shallow Grave also suffer from aggravating unbelievability.
Cheekily, John Hodge’s script tries to have its hash cake and eat it by acknowledging Renton et al are living in the past, pining for long gone glory days. The “Choose Life” speech is given a 21st century reboot, savaging Apple, Instagram, slut shaming, etc, etc, but it’s been overtaken by sharper satire to be found online and on demand.
Gentrification, EU loans, migrant workforces, impressionistic childhood flashbacks, cocaine, strap-on dildos; there’s lots here, but Boyle and Hodge can’t focus the story.
Even Robert Carlyle’s once terrifying Begbie has been defanged. Carlyle, losing a front dental implant to give his most famous role an unnerving grin, strives valiantly to reignite the old menace. But, Begbie’s subplot is half-baked, making him a slasher film bogeyman stuck in scenes better suited to director Boyle’s 28 Days Later.
So, what’s good? Sharp visuals, bold editing and some canny dialogue contain sparks of the old magic.
Boyle shoots Edinburgh with the same vitality as in his ’96 classic, the scrap yards and rubbish heaps and champagne bars and local boozers shrewd visual subtext to the characters’ lives.
And while Begbie is fumbled, Renton, Simon and Spud fare better, particularly Spud who has the strongest character arc as the gang’s accidental biographer.
Performances are excellent, the cast enthusiastically slipping back into characters from a film that gave them all careers. Boyle liberally splices in clips from Trainspotting to emphasise time’s effects on the cast. Although Star Wars and Elementary millions have preserved McGregor and Lee Miller rather well.
Newcomer Anjela Nedyalkova as Simon’s Eastern European call-girl girlfriend is memorable as an unofficial conscience for the boys, the actress’ charisma compensating for a role underwritten when compared to Diane from the original film.
An interrupted suicide attempt packs a hilarious gross-out punchline and a split screen toilet cubicle scene is played to perfection, making you crave for more moments that… hit.
Heroin is largely absent this time around and when it does appear (in a striking, maybe-fantasy sequence) it carries the same sense of danger and dread as it did two decades ago.
The biggest surprise is T2’s soundtrack. It won’t define a generation, but is a pulsing mix of eclectic cool, John Barry, Queen and The Clash rubbing alongside Wolf Alice, Young Fathers and The Rubberbandits. Lust for Life and Born Slippy are cannily evoked, but not indulged.
Ultimately, as a philosopher once said, “So we all get old and then we can’t hack it anymore. Is that it?”
That seems to be it. Beautifully fucking illustrated.
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