Do we really need a sequel to Danny Boyle’s seminal Trainspotting? Well, perhaps not. But Trainspotting 2 (or T2 Trainspotting, to be strictly accurate) is actually pretty good. It certainly isn’t the ground-breaking zeitgeist picture that the original was, but on its own terms it works very well as something that’s less Trainspotting and more its own beast.
The plot picks up twenty years after the events of the first film, whereby Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), determined to kick his heroin habit, ripped off his friends including Danny aka “Spud” (Ewen Bremmer), Simon aka “Sick Boy” (Johnny Lee Miller) and vicious loonie Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Renton returns to Edinburgh after an extended stay in Amsterdam, and is reunited with Simon and Danny. The former is attempting to set up a brothel with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) after getting tired of their blackmail racket. The latter is still a heroin addict estranged from his wife and son. But whilst these two reluctantly appear to accept Renton ripping them off as water under the bridge, a recently out of prison Begbie is nursing a twenty year grudge.
Performances are all solid, and it’s great to see the return of the original cast (including Kelly Macdonald in a bit part). Boyle’s direction is less visually audacious this time, but this decision is in keeping with the tone of the piece, ie less an energetic tale of small time crooks and hard drug use, more a reflection on the compromises and disappointments of its forty-something characters. There is still enough violence, hard drug use, strong sexual content and extremely strong language to more than warrant its 18 certificate, but this isn’t a youthful tear-up-the-rulebook cinematic landmark. Instead the story becomes a sombre, melancholy treatise on the wasted lives of men who seem stuck in the past. As one character says to Renton, “You’re a tourist in your own youth”.
That said, there are glimmers of redemption here and there, especially concerning the character of Danny (aka “Spud). Even Begbie gets to have an oddly touching moment near the end with his estranged son, (although he is still very much the unhinged psychopath of the original film). As for Renton, here he seems haunted by his former life. Cleverly integrated clips from the original film underscore this, as do childhood home movie shots. Screenwriter John Hodge (adapting Irvine Welsh’s novel Porno) gives the famous “Choose Life” speech a particularly raw-nerve jabbing contemporary update, with the proliferation of surveillance camera footage continually providing a contrast between past and present. The soundtrack also reflects this, and features a mixture of old (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Blondie, Queen, Run DMC) and new (Wolf Alice, Young Fathers, The Rubberbandits), along with a mixture of both (Prodigy’s new remix of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life). However, my favourite part of the soundtrack was actually the massively slowed down, remixed introduction to Underworld’s Born Slippy, used very effectively in Renton’s afore-mentioned flashbacks.
It is perhaps difficult to imagine what someone who didn’t see Trainspotting back in 1996 might make of this new film coming to it cold, but for all its hard edges, I found it a surprisingly different and meditative sequel. Not destined for classic status perhaps, but a worthy companion piece to the original.