When we last saw Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), he’d just ripped off his mates to the tune of 16,000 quid (and Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’) and was going straight and choosing life. Now, twenty years later, he’s returned to Edinburgh to look up old friends, and needless to say it’s a tumultuous homecoming.
After saving a suicidal Spud (Ewen Bremner), who’s still on heroin and a failure as a father, Renton looks up Sick Boy/Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), who’s now a volatile cokehead running an extortion racket involving incriminating videos, with prostitute partner Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Having vented his initial anger over his mate’s betrayal, Sick Boy offers Renton a partnership in a new business venture, a high class sauna (read brothel), and the pair slip back into their old groove. Then there is the matter of one Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who’s still as psychotic as ever and has just made a sly prison break, and it’s only a matter of time before he runs into Renton…
Trainspotting was very much a film of its era; like Quadrophenia, it defined the UK youth culture and music of the period. But as Kelly Macdonald’s Diane noted back in ’96, “The world is changing, music is changing, even drugs are changing” and T2 reveals those changes in a sombre and lethargic sequel that reflects its now middle-aged protagonists. The junkie squalor, scatalogical gags and anarchic energy are conspicuous by their absence. So is the propulsive soundtrack that was an intrinsic part of Trainspotting; the playlist is more incidental this time. And where Renton was the narrator and focus of the first film, T2 divides the screen time between all four characters and their respective subplots, and as a result feels overlong.
There is a lot to like, though. An impromptu sing-along by Sick Boy and Renton in a Protestant pub is a highlight, as is the inevitable confrontation between Begbie and Renton via some split-screen genius. The hyper-stylised look is back and nostalgia and fan service proliferate T2, with echoes and beats from the original resonating throughout – an updated “Choose life” monologue, a Prodigy remix of ‘Lust for Life’, and minor characters returning for a cameo. Sick Boy sums it up best in a remark to Renton, and the audience: “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth.”
Trainspotting didn’t really need a sequel; Renton’s “minor betrayal” was the perfect ending to a hard act to follow. This mostly satisfying follow-up doesn’t top or equal the first film, but instead leaves a nagging sense that these characters were more interesting as junkies.
In cinemas: February 23, 2017
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle
Directed by: Danny Boyle