1996’s TRAINSPOTTING was, need it be said, one of the last truly generation-defining movie events, remembered for its timeless soundtrack as much as its manic pacing and its unforgettable cast of slackers and scoundrels. Although a great deal of films canbe said to boast one or two ‘classic’ scenes, Danny Boyle’s masterpiece was a montage of showstopping sequences (Ewan McGregor’s
opening monologue, the walk up scenic Leum Uilleim, the ‘worst toilet in Scotland’). The hotly-awaited sequel was, let’s face it, never going to top all that; at best, the naysayers argued, it was set to merely capitalise upon its predecessor’s legacy – provided, of course, it did not go out of its way to blaspheme and tarnish it.
As expected, the film reunites the old gang (though Boyle has only been able to squeeze a cameo out of Kelly Macdonald, Trainspotting’s pseudo-love interest); all your favourite skits are reworked and reimagined here. But that is, of course, the bare minimum we could’ve asked for – a good sequel, let alone a great one, requires a cinematic voice and a set of guts it can call its own. Here, T2 finds itself in an awkward place. It’s supremely enjoyable in its own right, a nostalgic rollercoaster which,
nevertheless, will not leave younger viewers out in the cold, but there are parts where it struggles to escape the original’s shadow. It’s hardly, in other words, Big Momma’s House 2, but The Godfather: Part II it most certainly ain’t.
As in Trainspotting, the film does not ‘follow’ its central antiheroes, it hangs about them and their inevitably dodgy schemes; its greatest triumph, perhaps, is in its channelling of the slummy, surreal Edinburgh-ness that ensured the film’s cult status, despite that particular incarnation of the
Scottish capital having long since been consigned to the landfill of history. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) has a meltdown in front of the stunned clientele of an upper-class bistro; the ‘Choose Life’ speech is granted a surprisingly imaginative reboot (“choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram …”). An early, gruesome suicide attempt can leave the audience in no doubt, however, as to what Boyle has in store for us – welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the filthy world of Mark Renton (McGregor)…
Speaking of which, Trainspotting’s protagonists have amounted to something of a ragbag in the light of Renton’s robbing them 20 years back. Spud (Ewan Bremner), formerly the posse’s comic relief,
has struggled to kick his heroin habit; Sick Boy dreams of opening a brothel, and the psychotic ways of Franco (Robert Carlyle) have landed him a permanent gig in prison.
All bring their personalities back to the table (Spud’s jaw-forward lovability, Franco’s twitchy
instability), but a concerted effort has been made to move these stories forward. Gone, then, is the slapdash laddishness in favour of an excruciating middle-aged anxiety, and all the hard knocks which necessarily come with that.
Alas, nothing here will go down in cinema history, but Boyle hasn’t watered down the ink-black
ingenuity of the first film. A key episode, featuring a run-in at a nightclub, recalls the vulgar,
ultraviolent brilliance of Trainspotting; a riff on Scottish sectarianism comes very, very
close to matching it.
More could, arguably, have been done (the female cast, a potentially ripe source of drama untapped by the roundly post-feminist original, remain side-lined in T2), but this is anything but the shameful cash-in we all feared it would be, and the old team still have much to say about masculinity, friendship, addiction and loyalty.