It’s always a risk when directors make sequels for films years after their original productions, and even more so when the director in question has never made a sequel before. Based on the third instalment of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting trilogy, T2 Trainspotting is Danny Boyle’s return to the feverish world of possibly the most iconic British film of the 1990s.
With a twenty year gap between the two films, it’s an admirable undertaking to attempt to emulate the frenetic pacing and trippy aesthetics of such a celebrated adaptation—especially given the varying success of its main actors in the aftermath of the original’s release. Despite this, T2 is nothing short of a spectacular continuation in its ability to use nostalgia efficiently to create enough references to tie itself to Trainspotting without sabotaging its chances of garnering a narrative of its own.
Centring on Mark Renton’s (Ewan McGregor) return to Edinburgh; the narrative focuses on his attempts to reconcile with the estranged friends he left behind, as well as offering insight to how the intervening years have affected their lives. With multiple strands including Sickboy’s (Jonny Lee Miller) ventures into blackmail and transforming his late-aunt’s bar into a brothel, Spud’s (Ewen Bremner) battle with heroin addiction, and Begbie’s (Robert Carlyle) escape from prison; the film becomes an intricately layered portrait of a group of people struggling under the weight of long-standing feelings of regret, abandonment, and desire for revenge.
With a brilliantly dark screenplay from John Hodge, these overriding emotions not only act as driving forces for the film’s sporadic tonal shifts and hyperactive pacing, but they also function as a means of taking already well developed characters and instilling them with an extra emotional depth. In this respect; the acting is outstanding on all fronts, as we see the familiar core aspects of each character transposed into their now jaded, out-of-touch, and constantly nostalgic older-selves.
As already mentioned, the acting within the film is stellar across the board. But, for me at least, the real stand-out performance is in Ewen Bremner’s portrayal of a middle-aged Daniel “Spud” Murphy; with his extraordinary ability to oscillate between the roles of comic relief and tragic figure showcasing an emotional range that far transcends the gross-out antics and cowardly demeanour formerly attributed to his character. This fluidity not only creates a real sense of depth within his character, but allows for a series of emotive responses from those around him. He effectively emphasises Begbie and Sick Boy’s mutual lust for revenge and underpins Renton’s struggle to confront his past directly; meaning that amidst the hyperactivity of the narrative there remains some semblance an emotional anchor through juxtaposing their reckless emotions with Spud’s consistent selflessness.
And while many critiques of the film centre around its nostalgia and familiarity, it’s precisely these qualities that makes T2 so refreshing in terms of its status as a franchise sequel. Although the film is littered with references to its predecessor (such as its iconic opening sequence and ‘The Worst Toilet In Scotland’), they work in Danny Boyle’s favour by managing to appeal towards their already established audience without appearing as vapid attempts at pandering for box office success. Rather, the overriding effect is that an additional layer of sympathy is put in place throughout the narrative by way of intermittent reminders of each character’s past, which results in a simultaneous highlighting of the similarities and differences between their respective past/present situations.
Nevertheless, the film falters ever-so-slightly in its blatant incorporation of Snapchat filters and other references towards social media, with its cultural signposting appearing noticeably less spontaneous than Trainspotting. But in saying so, this hardly seems surprising given that the film’s core characters are bogged down by their past actions, relationships, and experiences; meaning that their interactions and involvement within modern society would always appear stilted in comparison to their youth. In this way, despite appearing ham-fisted in parts, the film avoids feeling completely forced due to its ability to showcase a meditative retrospection against its kinetic editing style.
T2 Trainspotting is an unmistakably “Danny Boyle” film in the vibrancy of its visuals and its sporadic use of freeze-frames and Dutch angles that compliments its original counterpart to a tee. And while it certainly pays a great deal of homage towards Trainspotting, its emotional breadth arguably reaches farther along the spectrum to deliver a deliciously existential open-ending that forces us to contemplate how self-destructive fixating on the past can be. Perhaps functioning as a critique of society’s tendency to offer nostalgia as a means of escape from reality, perhaps a murky exploration of what it means to ‘do the right thing’; if one thing’s for sure, it’s that T2 is definitely a warning against cheating your mates out of £16,000.