From it’s cool, stylised opening onwards, in which the present day world of T2 Trainspotting is cut with iconic shots from the original, Danny Boyle’s sequel to what is often hailed as one of the most important British films ever made rides high on an expected sense of nostalgia. In case the images of a young Renton (Ewan McGregor) don’t do it for you, a tender, instrumental reworking of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” should force the wistful reminiscence into overdrive – that is, until a particularly heavy scene early on reminds us suddenly, and sharply, just how brilliantly miserable 1996’s Trainspotting really was.
It’s that reliance on our adoration of the original that ultimately stops T2 from genuinely affecting the way Trainspotting did. The story here takes place twenty years after the events of the first film and follows a much more straightforward narrative, rather than comprising a series of short stories; a string of interrelated moments joining up a number of interconnected, heroin-afflicted lives. Unfortunately, T2 suffers from its coherence – there’s no stream of consciousness style storytelling driving the narrative, even if that same sense of storytelling becomes a plot point later on. T2 is a much simpler film and consequently, a far less interesting one.
Returning to Scotland from his new life in Amsterdam, Renton aims to make amends with the friends he robbed and abandoned, “Spud” (Ewen Bremner) and “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller). Spud still struggles with his addiction to heroin, “the only friend that never left him” while Sick Boy has replaced it with cocaine and pimping. However, recently escaped from prison, the psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has no intention of forgiving Renton’s past-sins, spitting his rage at anyone who gets in the way.
T2 is heavier on humour than tragedy. Still, Boyle’s given us another very, very funny film – even if it’s somewhat stripped of the bleaker than bleak, black comedy of Trainspotting. Thematically, the focus here is mid-life crises, middle-aged disillusions and powerlessness. Boyle and his leads do a superb job capturing a sense of what’s lost in the passage of time, where everything changes and everything stays exactly the same. Again, the action here is highly stylised, consistently punctuated with expertly timed freeze frames. The style, narrative and dialogue relentlessly wink and nod to the 1996 original; at times there’s a comforting familiarity to it. Often, however, it feels unnatural, forced. Renton’s updated “choose life” speech is an unfortunately strained example of this.
While T2 starts brilliantly, it relies too heavy on these updated reflections of the past and the audience’s nostalgia for the original. Early on, we wish this sequel would do its own thing – when it does, however, T2 transforms into somewhat of a straightforward, admittedly enjoyable dramatic thriller, its climax a million miles away from the open-ended uncertainty we’d expect. This is a fine film – often hilarious, occasionally affecting and visually stimulating throughout – but while it attempts to capture the spirit of the original, T2 Trainspotting fails to achieve that which made the original so hilariously compelling and tragically inventive. Was it ever really going to?