Self-aware nostalgia trip with a hit more bitter than sweet ★★☆☆☆
Director: DANNY BOYLE
Starring: EWAN MCGREGOR/ EWEN BREMNEW/ JONNY LEE MILLER/ ROBERT CARLYLE
First, there was an opportunity, then there was a betrayal.
So is the main premise of the long awaited and long feared sequel to Trainspotting, the iconic film that all but made the lives of hardened yet flighty heroin-addicted young Scots an aspirational image for two consecutive decades. The gripping tale of four friends who “Chose Life” appears to have mutated into an altogether separate narrative beast of its own, trans-generational and unending. One can only imagine how writer Irvine Welsh feels in seeing his debut novel snowball into the money-spinner that it persists in being even today.
Renton (Ewan McGregor) – who we last saw sprinting away with bundles of cash – returns to Scotland following the death of his mother, unearthing his past along the way. He’s spent the past 20 years avoiding it, living in Amsterdam with a good home life and a good job. It seems that he has – somehow – done the best out of all his friends. Spud (Ewen Bremner) lived and breathed that dream with Gail and Fergus before again succumbing to the clutch of heroin, whilst Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still in jail following the events of the first film (though not for long) and seemingly estranged from his own son and wife.
Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) – now more frequently referred to as “Simon” – is consistently peroxide, albeit a bit thin on the ground. He dallies in extortion in between looking after his deceased aunt’s pub, which is sporadically visited by elder Scotsmen who he surveys with disdain, their corporeal ghosts being a stern reminder of the fate that awaits should he not grasp a chance to escape.
Escape, of course, comes in misdemeanour. Leopards do not change their spots after all, and whilst some may have faded over time it takes only a brief reunion for prostitution, blackmail and addiction to sidle back into the daily life of a 40-something. As Sick Boy does state in the film, “The great wave of gentrification has yet to engulf [Leith].”
It transpires that – even in 2017 – the lives of a certain segment of Scottish society persist in being an afterthought, the previously blue-collar workforce morphing into an underclass in a post-recession, post-coalition austerity that chokes the areas that were already crippled under a 90s New Labour affluence. Similarly, T2 takes the new equilibrium of our Four Horsemen at the beginning of the film and unravels it for its own entertainment. It is much less midlife crisis than pure masochism in which the protagonists are pointlessly tortured for the enjoyment of the audience.
Formality and fan-service that often slips into the illogical
Has the sociopathic Begbie not matured in prison? Has Sick Boy outgrown his wheeler-dealing ways? Is poor ol’ Spud not worthy of a bit of reprieve? And is Renton not better off giving the ghosts of his youth a miss?
As they begin to slide back into their old roles it feels a bit too ideal, a factor that is only reinforced by the intercut throwbacks to the original film. Renton’s pining for his glory days is mirrored by our own; the misdemeanour of T2 feels cheap (as does Renton and Sick Boy’s heroin one-shot of which they face zero repercussions) whilst Begbie’s singular trajectory of re-establishing himself as a crooked businessman with a score to settle feels but a weak ploy to propel the plot; instead his burgeoning relationship with his squarely wide-eyed son is far more compelling.
That aforementioned relationship injects some much needed “heart” into the vein of T2, which is – at times – a soulless spectre of a venture. Yes, we see Renton reunite with his father and fall in love with Sick Boy all over again, but the overall juncture is formality and fan-service that often slips into the illogical rather than sincere action. There are more plot holes than pot holes on Leith’s beaten path, and whilst seeing the gang similarly weathered and worn is a salve to the abrasions of life, T2 proves to be a trip that one would rather forget.
- You want to hark back to 90s Britannia
- Friends Reunited has let you down
- You can overlook gaping plot holes (like why – at no one point in this film – did the police think to knock on Begbie’s front door)