When vying to appease an expectant fan-base of cult followers, as Danny Boyle is attempting with T2 Trainspotting, sometimes you have to accept it’s unlikely to be as good. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile addition to the franchise, and Boyle has ensured that this eagerly anticipated sequel – based on Irvine Welsh’s Porno – is tonally familiar, showing off that same, unique ability to move seamlessly between comedy and tragedy, to be dark in parts, hilarious in others, and in some scenes, both. This endeavour is gloriously stylistic, taking risks, visually, and yet grounding the surrealistic elements with a deeply sad, devastating tale. In other words, this is distinctively a Trainspotting movie, and you can’t have asked for too much more than that.
The last time Renton (Ewan McGregor) saw his three friends, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) he had just betrayed them, fleeing to Amsterdam with their money. But now he’s back in the Scottish capital, and intends to right some wrongs, and while Spud is somewhat forgiving to his dear old friend, Sick Boy is less so, greeting Renton with a swinging pool cue, seeking closure on the situation by conjuring up a plan of his own, wanting to drag Renton back into this murky lifestyle. Begbie, however, is still serving time in prison, and needless to say he’s after a more hands-on means of revenge.
T2 Trainspotting works as a comment on being middle aged, and where the characters, 20 years ago, lived in the moment, they’re now caught in that period where they’re afraid to look back (and with good reason) and even more afraid to look forward. It’s a notion we can relate to, and while our own youths were hopefully not quite as bleak as the characters in this film, there is a nostalgia born out of that sense of carefree spontaneity and exuberance, where you’d act first and think later. Sadly the comment on modern society is not quite as well-judged, and while you can understand why Boyle felt compelled to do this, given the first thrived in such an area, in this instance it doesn’t feel very natural, and so may have been better to swerve. I mean, I don’t believe for one second that Renton and Sick Boy would use Snapchat – it just feels like a contrived means of placing this tale in a contemporary world.
Many of the nods back to the original film will give you a warm feeling inside, but there are times when a rolling of the eyes is the only reasonable response, with a handful of sequences that feel so intent on appeasing fans they lose sight of the fact this is a standalone endeavour. It’s why this nostalgia-infused feature has such a glorious opening act, for simply re-entering this world is enough to make us grin incessantly. It’s the latter stages where the flaws appear, for when that sense of familiarity and nostalgia wears thin, we become reliant on having a more captivating, intelligent storyline and sadly we’re left wanting in that department.
In many ways, T2 Trainspotting is an impossible film to make. So while question marks do remain as to whether it ever needed to be made in the first place, fact of the matter is, it has been made, and establishing that it’s not a disaster, and the relief that follows, makes this picture something of a success. It can’t be better than the first, but even Boyle would tell you that. This is different, and different is not always a bad thing.