Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Bremner
Running time: 117 minutes
After 20 years, everyone’s favourite drug abusing, money thieving, c-bombing Scottish foursome are back in the sequel to Danny Boyle’s immensely popular 1996 cult classic. While T2 doesn’t shy away from offering more of what was so loved previously, this time around it all feels a little unimaginatively stale in a film that appears to have remained on the very same platform from whence it came.
Having lived in Amsterdam since the events of the first film, Mark Renton (McGregor) finally returns to Edinburgh to reconnect with old friends Sick Boy (Miller) and Spud (Bremner). In an attempt to patch things up, he and Sick Boy embark on a joint business venture with the latter’s girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova); all the while, the psychotic Begbie (Carlyle) escapes from prison and seeks revenge.
It seems like such a long time coming, but T2 can finally answer the plaguing question that had for what felt like an eternity only been rhetorical: would the sequel live up to the original? And, literally speaking, it really does. Just like the unaltered wallpaper that surrounds Renton’s bedroom, T2 is splattered in much of the same sweaty, sickly sweet comedic gloss that painted our cinema screens two decades ago. There is lots of sex, drugs aplenty and the odd bodily fluid here and there. As well as the resurrection of those old demons in the rundown housing estates and dingy toilets of the Edinburgh club scene, Renton’s return also signals the re-ignition of that Danny Boyle cinematic style that made the original so iconic. It’s certainly a case of ‘as you were’ here, as once again we passively inhale gritty realism with puffs of pop culture, while simultaneously being injected with the fantastical – there are freeze frames, words appearing in inventive ways on the screen, contrasting music genres, and some very obscure camera positions. And in many ways, the characters themselves appear indicative of the old – Sick Boy still lives with the anger of Mark’s betrayal, Spud hasn’t kicked the heroin, and even 20 years of prison can’t shake Begbie’s violent tendencies.
Renton himself is the solitary symbol of change since the original. Although it’s never explicitly told to us why he’s returned to Edinburgh, he cuts a figure of a reformed man who is married and enjoys running (for recreational pleasure this time around), but at the same time is someone clearly struggling with the pressures of adulthood. This is because, as much as anything, T2 is a love letter to the days of youth and all the naivety and mistakes that undoubtedly come with it.
“Nostalgia – that’s why you’re here” utters Sick Boy at one point, and it certainly seems as though that is true of the film more widely. Despite glimpses of offering something new, the film appears too caught up in playing the tribute act to its original; spending far too much time browsing the homage aisle. To the point of self-indulgence, with every flashback, T2 frustratingly feels as though it constantly needs to remind us just how important and celebrated the 1996 film was. At times – in particular, during one scene involving Renton and a random car driver – the parallels to Trainspotting also appear shoehorned and unnecessary, and are never as good as the moments being remembered and referenced.
That said, there are some elements of the film that deserve recognition. The on-going cat-and-mouse between Renton and Begbie is a highlight; mostly down to the acidic, terrifying brilliance of Carlyle’s performance – easily the stand-out performer in a film where many characters are frustratingly sidelined. Equally, the scene that kicks all that off – a split screen cubicle exchange in a nightclub toilet – is pure genius; and a sequence of improvised singing and George Best appreciation is equally great fun. However, these episodes are fleeting and sporadic in a film that feels altogether inferior.
“First there was an opportunity…then there was a betrayal” is a running statement throughout, and while T2 far from betrays its older sibling, there is certainly the sense of an opportunity missed here. In its reluctance to step out of its shadow, the 2017 follow-up often acts as nothing more than an enjoyable reminder of just how good the 1996 original was.