This highly anticipated sequel is packed with nostalgia, for better and for worse.
February 24, 2017
Choose the conventional, or go with something else. It's a question Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) knows oh-so-well. Every time the former Edinburgh heroin addict turned Amsterdam accountant has unleashed one of his catchy "choose life" monologues — first in Trainspotting, now in the sequel — that's been his central dilemma. In the long-awaited follow-up to the 1996 cult classic that introduced him and his fellow layabout mates Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), it's a choice that remains as relevant as ever.
Initially, Renton chose skag. Then, he chose to fleece his friends after a lucrative drug deal so he could live life on the straight and narrow. Now, back in his old stomping grounds, he doesn't quite know which option to go for. Before long he crosses paths with the pals he hasn't seen for 21 years, finding Spud still struggling with his habit, and Sick Boy running both a failing pub and a blackmail racket with his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). At least Renton's safe from Begbie, who has long been locked up for his ultra-violent ways…at least, until he orchestrates a jailbreak.
So it is that the characters reunite, in one way or another, and find themselves taking stock of their unfulfilling lives. But things are rather different than they were in '96. It was with the energetic drumbeat and aggressive drawl of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" that the foursome made their debut all those years ago, back when they were young, searching for fun, spoiling for trouble, hooked on various substances and sensations, and nothing about them was clean, orderly or clear-cut. Two decades later, an air of chaos still prevails – but in trying to make sense of the past to cope with the present and face the future, messiness is the very thing the characters are trying to eliminate.
From a narrative perspective, that's easier said than done. While T2: Trainspotting spins its story around the futility of reliving former glories, director Danny Boyle seems unable to resist the urge to replicate, redefine and retell. There's nostalgia here, and melancholy, but also a sense of indulgence, with many a phrase, situation, scene, shot, soundtrack choice and even snippets of old footage harkening back to the original. Sometimes the movie successfully interrogates its history. Sometimes it's an empty rehash. Mostly, Renton sums it up perfectly: "choose history repeating itself".
Still, it's a pleasure to catch up with the iconic characters again, as well as with the actors that play them – although sadly, the first film's female stars Kelly MacDonald and Shirley Henderson get barely more than cameos. McGregor and Miller are rarely better than when they're just catching up and talking rubbish together, and Carlyle still plays psychopathic with brutal flair. But, it's actually Bremner who steals the show — and his tragicomic Spud who receives the most fulfilling storyline, while also suffering most from the film's need for neatness. Ultimately, the battle between the engaging and the all-too-easy is what you'll find coursing through T2: Trainspotting's veins.