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Ever since fourteen-year-old me attempted to sneakily watch a slightly dodgy, slightly illegal download of Trainspotting on my family desktop computer, it’s been a firm favourite of mine. Plus, Danny Boyle is my town’s finest export since black pudding, so it’s fair to say that when I heard it was getting a sequel, I was pretty excited. Maybe it was the heady excitement that left me so disappointed on T2’s opening weekend, but sadly it just didn’t work for me.
To loosely set the scene, Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton has returned to Edinburgh, from whence he fled with money off the back of a massive heroin deal, then stolen from his circle of friends. Said circle of friends are up to their usual tricks. Spud is still a kind-hearted addict. Sick Boy is still a bleach blond blackmailer, now going by Simon. And Begbie is still a lunatic, though one who has been behind bars over the twenty years between the two films. Begbie escapes and ultimately pursues Renton to get revenge over the stolen money from all those years ago, whilst the other three work together to turn Simon’s inherited pub in to a sauna in a bid to win the affections of his sex worker ‘girlfriend’, Veronika.
For me, the main issue with T2 lies with the fact that it relies too heavily on the contemporary issues of its predecessor. ‘Heroin chic’ was a big thing in the nineties, whereas nowadays white middle-aged men are perhaps less in style. Because that is the overriding theme of the film. In Trainspotting, the gang were ravaged by heroin addiction, in T2, they’re ravaged by the mundaneness of middle aged life. Part of me wants to attribute this to my disappointment with the film, in that perhaps it was less easy to identify with. It wasn’t that you identified with the heroin use. But the angry young man portrayed by Renton, the bristles made towards the government and generally trying to figure out the best course of action, how to choose life, those were things you could identify with, and those things somehow get lost in T2.
That’s not to say that ideas aren’t lifted from Trainspotting. The iconic opening scene of Renton’s race down Princes Street is turned into Mark’s slog on a treadmill. The iconic ‘Choose Life’ monologue is hastily and sloppily rehashed in to something with fleeting mentions of zero-hour contracts and reality TV. It’s hardly going to be the big seller at the Alex Square poster sale that its predecessor was. Diane makes the most pointless cameo appearance that brings so little to the narrative, there’s not a lot more that can be said about it than that. The black comedy elements of Trainspotting are also reflected in T2, though they remove the black element to result in something that is perhaps too comedic to fit in. For example, one borderline slapstick scene sees Mark and Simon, having been kidnapped by a competitor, sprinting through the countryside stark naked.
Despite the above appearing scathing, that’s not to say that there weren’t elements of the film that I didn’t enjoy. The characters were well developed, building on what we already knew from Trainspotting. Mark is still cocksure and kind of odious but also not inherently unlikeable. Simon is still a handsome, personable con artist, and Johnny Lee Miller brings the same charm to the role. Begbie somehow manages to be even more psychopathic than before, and Robert Carlyle provides yet another spot-on performance of the character. And Ewen Bremner’s brilliant performance of the fragile Spud preserves the character’s likeable naivety; his ongoing battle with addiction, the friendship he forms with Veronika and his taking-up of writing are all pleasing and somewhat uplifting elements of the film, and serve as a reminder that, as with Trainspotting, Spud is the one you should be rooting for. The stories he writes of his times with Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and company form the basis of a novel, which is insinuated to be the original novel of Trainspotting, which was a clever and uplifting touch. One of the triumphs of the film for me lay in the fact that despite the downtrodden attitudes from virtually all the characters at the start of the film, fortunes were more or less upturned. They come to terms with their situations; just as in Trainspotting, T2 ends with them choosing life.
If you’re yet to see T2 though, I would say it’s worth a watch. The story is good, and as with Boyle’s other films, it’s cinematically pleasing with a great soundtrack. As I said before, my disappointment stemmed from my love of the original, and a comparison between the two draws a very clear superior. T2 is good on its own merits, just don’t make the same mistake as I and go in with expectations of another Trainspotting.
T2 Trainspotting is showing at the Dukes until Thursday week 16.