Twenty years after Renton (McGregor) chose life, betrayed his friends and wandered off into the sun with the ill-gotten gains of a drug deal in the first Trainspotting film, the motley gang of Scottish miscreants are back in T2 Trainspotting.
Having decamped to Amsterdam for 20 years following the events of the original movie, Renton returns home to Edinburgh disillusioned with his middle age and ready to reconnect with old pals Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner). Sick Boy, now known as Simon, has swapped heroin for cocaine and is running his aunt’s deserted pub while developing a lucrative sideline in blackmailing with his ‘girlfriend’, a Bulgarian named Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). After losing his job, Spud has returned to the arms of his most dependable friend, heroin.
Then there’s the psychotic Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who has spent the intervening years in a prison cell. After his lawyer makes clear there’s no chance of being granted parole he takes matters into his own hands, convincing a fellow inmate to stab him so he can escape from hospital. Finding out that Renton has resurfaced after two decades, he begins plotting revenge on the man who ran off with his money.
Sick Boy and Spud are not exactly enamoured with their returning friend either. The former blames Renton’s betrayal for everything that has gone wrong in his life, while the latter, who received his share of the money, blames his friend’s absence and generosity for his continuing drug habit. However, once they overcome past grievances, they join forces to convert Sick Boy’s dilapidated pub into a brothel.
Director Danny Boyle’s return to his most iconic characters is about much more than dropping in on old friends. T2 Trainspotting is an extremely self-aware film as Boyle realises that by watching, the audience, like the characters, are chasing past glories that have disappeared forever. Veronika describes Renton and Sick Boy as “tourists” in their own past, an apt description of filmgoers who long for a time when the 1996 movie’s revered soundtrack was a bestseller.
Boyle uses hazy cinematography, cuts to scenes from the original, callbacks and his trademark fantasy sequences to give the film a melancholic, wistful feel. The soundtrack also has a more regretful feel, with Wolf Alice’s melodic indiepop joining remixed tracks from the original.
That is not to say that the moments of laugh-out-loud humour and audacious moments that were a hallmark of Trainspotting are completely absent. Two scenes in particular stand-out; a scene in which Renton and Sick Boy end up leading an impromptu singalong in a Protestant loyalist club and a tension-filled altercation between Renton and Begbie in a club toilet.
T2 Trainspotting is not the breakneck collection of thrills, pills and bellyaches that its predecessor was, but nor should it be. Time has moved on, and as the characters realise, not necessarily for the better. But it is a thoughtful and entertaining examination of how choosing life still means losing your youth.
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