Trainspotting caught lightning in a bottle. It was very much a product of the ’90s, a snapshot of an alternative, and grittier side of British youth subculture. An effortlessly cool, anarchic classic that resonated with its audience (myself included), and that directly tackled the issues it spoke of with a brutal level of honesty.
And try as you might to recapture that lightning, it’s rarely possible. Luckily, T2 doesn’t simply retread its old stomping grounds in an attempt at rekindling the magic. Instead, it sees the famous characters of its predecessor facing the consequences of their lifestyle head on. Or, at least, some more than others.
Spud (Ewen Bremner) lives full of regret. Once a junkie, always a junkie, he’s wasted his life and love away in favour of heroin, and the weight of his choices are finally catching up with him. Renton (Ewan McGregor) has returned to Edinburgh, ready to face his friends for the first time since betraying them twenty years previous, having robbed them all (bar Spud) of £4000 each. For Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) however, things haven’t really changed all that much. The former is scamming rich men and in the midst of planning the opening of his own brothel. The latter has been spending his days in prison, a place that he doesn’t intend to stay put in for any longer. Both Sick Boy and Begbie are out for revenge on Renton – time, it appears, does not heal all wounds.
Time itself is what it’s ultimately about; the passage of time, the process of ageing, and how we change as people over the years. And with the characters creeping well into middle age, the pacing isn’t nearly as non-stop and kinetic as that of Trainspotting. The first film was constantly pushing towards Renton and company scoring their next hit – no matter how high the cost – always forward and never back. This time around there’s plenty of time set aside for reflection, as Spud (the film’s standout), Renton and, to a lesser degree, Sick Boy look upon the errors of their past. Begbie though is just a monster. He’s gone from a looming threat to an all out menace. Which works as a blessing and a curse. A blessing because Robert Carlyle is so gleefully terrifying. But also a curse, in that the character becomes a touch one note, barely capable of the remorse that his one-time friends feel. And also, it was just more fun when he was the dangerous nut job the gang couldn’t shake, rather than a full on enemy.
With familiar faces, the changing city of Edinburgh, a trip to the scene of one of cinema’s most memorable drug withdrawals, the film is packed with nice callbacks – some subtle, some less so. The best of them are fittingly in the music, which was so iconic the first time around. The briefest bursts of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, and lingering shades of Underworld’s “Born Slippy” are particularly effective in bringing bittersweet memories flooding back. The lesson to take from it all: growing up can be depressing, reminiscing doesn’t have to be.
Rating (out of 5):