Synopsis: After 20 years abroad, Mark Renton returns to Scotland and reunites with his old friends Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie. (Source)
Well, he’s gone and done it. Director Danny Boyle has made the sequel we need, and it’s called T2 Trainspotting. Boyle’s film is a haunting, sometimes harrowing look at how the past shapes our future, while also asking the timeless question of whether we can ever truly change who we are – can we escape the things we’ve done or we doomed to locked-cycle of self-destruction? Just like the group of misfits at its core, Boyle’s film is still raucous, boisterous, crude and unhinged, but also carries sobering weight, understanding full well the darker implications of its actions. The ideas behind Boyle’s latest are urgent and necessary now more than ever, and seeing the boys get back together is irresistible, even if their reunion comes with the appropriate baggage and everybody wants to kill each other.
The story picks up twenty years after we left Scotland’s infamous band of scoundrels, Renton (Ewan McGregor), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and the violent Begbie (Robert Carlyle). When things kick off, Renton is returning to Scotland after time abroad, seemingly hoping to make amends. Of course, his acts of redemption aren’t what they seem, and he’s soon embroiled in a plot with Sick Boy to open up a local brothel. With relations and tensions already taut, things take an even wilder turn, when the most feared of the bunch, Begbie escapes from prison, thirsting for blood and vengeance.
Unlike most sequels which try to aimlessly mimic what came before, this is the kind of film that works because of how it parallels the past, taking full advantage of time and distance. Though nostalgia does factor into the motivations of certain characters, Boyle doesn’t punctuate these aspects to pander- in fact, most of the film’s call outs to its predecessor are poignant and even heartbreaking, given how Boyle creates sharp contrast between these characters and their younger selves. What’s smart, is that while the first film used heroin addiction as a foray into dead-end, lower class struggle, this chapter finds its older characters addicted to their own past. “You’re a tourist in your own youth”, mentions Sick Boy, a statement that hangs over every scene as Renton and crew confront the realization that their youth is gone, along with all of its promise and their friendships. Under this light, the film takes on a thriller aspect, playing off of the first film’s pivotal act of betrayal and sour, bittersweet reunions. It’s dark stuff, but Boyle handles tone and character perfectly, balancing dark humor with a propulsive plot and kinetic, hyperreal imagery, illustrating how perspective only changes with time, and that time passes way too fast.
Keeping up with Boyle’s energetic direction, is an ensemble who doesn’t miss a beat. Everything pivots off of McGregor’s Renton again, and he’s the perfect entry point. McGregor brings a sincerity to the character that wasn’t there before, and he’s harder to read and more lost than ever, making for a sympathetic character who is very much flawed in a way we relate and gravitate towards. As Simon (Sick Boy), Jonny Lee Miller finds his character in arrested development, angry and sour over how things went, and unable to recover from his past. There’s a sadness and rage that boils underneath, and he’s a great contrast to McGregor. Ewen Bremner’s Spud is the endearing goof of the bunch, the heart and soul of the film who is just doing his best to do right by those around him. Bremner makes Spud’s heartbreaking story really resonate. As the unhinged Begbie, Robert Carlyle is as irresistible as he is devious. You fear him, but also laugh at his eccentricity, and Carlyle is careful to make the character feel real and not a caricature, despite how absurd he is. Lastly, Anjela Nedyalkova injects new blood as Veronika, a wildcard with more up her sleeve than she lets on. She gives the film a vitality, the youngest of the bunch and at the opposite spectrum in more ways than one.
Though the original film was great the way it left off, Boyle’s revisit never feels like a cynical cash grab – it’s a necessary, reevaluation of what was and what is, something that could only have been made by a director and cast who have grown up and are ready to face the music. Even with the film’s more mature slant, none of the energy is lost, with a propulsive soundtrack and visuals that make us feel the perpetual momentum that these characters are a slave to. To that end, T2 Trainspotting is a brilliant companion to a landmark film, a sobering experience that illustrates what really matters in a world that’s constantly hurtling towards oblivion.