T2: Trainspotting is directed by Danny Boyle and stars Ewan McGreggor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle.
Set twenty years after the events of the cultural phenomenon, the sequel tells a story of memory, regret and the new modernity which centres around Renton (McGreggor) as he returns to Edinburgh to reconnect with Simon ‘Sick Boy’, now a bar owner and ‘entrepreneur’ and Spud (Bremner), a recovering heroin junkie trying to provide for his family. Threatening their rocky reunion is Begbie (Carlyle) who has escaped from prison and is out for blood- Renton’s blood, for his actions at the end of the last film. Old friends are remembered, the sins of the past are dug up and drug-fuelled antics ensue.
Twenty years is a long time between films and this one takes advantage of that. Renton this time around, is not the young and energetic kid we once knew; he is reserved, tired but best of all; clean. McGreggor will always be remembered for being cast in the first outing but what he manages to do here is almost re-invent the character. He is more mature, sensible and caring; something we barely got from the original. These traits are used well and make Renton more sympathetic and damaged. As his friends try to drag him back into the world he left behind, he is always calm and commanding and has the guts to refuse, something which Simon especially finds infuriating. Its this command over the others, even Begbie, that is key for the character’s growth and embodies the meaning of growing up and letting go of the past.
His gang of allies and enemies can’t forget, however. Simon (Miller) is a tragic reminder of the scars that the past can leave. He owns a bar and has a girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) but is cripplingly addicted to cocaine an is generally a mess. His resentment and burning hatred for Renton is expressed in emotional and rather violent ways. Over the course of the film, he becomes settled and actually enjoys the company of his old friend again. When paired with McGreggor, the chemistry is fiery and natural. Their blissful highs are coupled with bittersweet lows which dramatically change their relationship by the end. (There is one particular musical scene which is a small but much-needed fun escape from the otherwise bleak narrative.)
Bremner’s depiction of a recovering junkie as Spud is in equal parts delightful and devastating. When he and Renton first meet, their reunion is cut short by Spud’s suicide attempt and so, Mark tries to get his friend on the right track. Spud hasn’t quite adjusted to a new life but with his friends back in town, his happiness and sense of optimism for the future is infectious and sweet. But, when things turn sour, Bremner shows off his true dramatic talents and marks a turning point for the character.
Carlyle, on the other hand, is just as chaotic and unhinged as ever. Age hasn’t stopped the rage-fuelled freight train which is Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie. Carlyle brings a lot of physicality to the role. with exaggerated facial expressions and gestures which highlight his anger and lust for revenge. HIs voice and mannerisms are, as in the first, loud, fast and braggadocious, flying off the handle at the littlest comment or insult. His version of past events annoy and even scare the others and when they are all put together, its as if they never left us in the first place. The relationships between these characters are constantly changing and evolving into something new in each scene but there is never any real resolution to their issues by the end.
The themes of memory and lost friendship are implemented in Boyle’s direction and in every moment of musical or image editing. Scenes from the original are recreated in front of today’s characters and the cues of ‘Lust for Life’ are teasingly yet carefully placed to blatantly remind older viewers of the glories of the original. The use of drugs has been stripped back but some scenes look like the result of a bad trip (another reference, there are a lot). Boyle is right at home with these characters and, along with Irvine Welsh, knows how to present and situate them. No one knows this better than Boyle and his direction, although it panders to the last generation quite hard, he also brings new energy to the sequel that the old and new audience can equally understand and enjoy.
Despite its clear references and nods which come from a mile away, they are still relevant to the story and help the characters evolve and transform in a way which we never thought possible. The acting is great across the board and the direction and editing are sound. It has done what it had set out to do; to remind the audience of a not quite forgotten era and update it to fit modern times. No, it is not a groundbreaking success which revives a franchise but is a deeply personal and rather moving portrait of memory and what it means to grow up and mature after twenty years. Is it as good as the first? No, but is it a worthy successor? Absolutely. Now, go out there and remind yourself of what Renton commands of you; choose life.