I was not a student in the early 2000’s but I still get the cultural impact that Trainspotting made across the country. The music from the film was on playlists across the country, as in radio playlists because people had to listen to inane DJ chatter when Spotify didn’t exist while the amazingly designed posters were plastered across student halls, which was at least was different from the Che Guevara pictures that usually adorned this sort of place. So the sequel has a lot to live up to as it looks to make a similar sort of impact today, so does T2 Trainspotting achieve this?
Twenty years after he robbed his friends of the money they made selling heroin, Renton (Ewan McGregor, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith) returns to Edinburgh with his life falling apart. He meets up with the people he robbed and finds that they are still angry about the fact they lost so much money because of him.
It seems quite fitting that T2 Trainspotting is about nostalgia. We are in an era of nostalgia, where all mediums are being dominated by reboots and remakes, whether it be the fact we are getting a Jumanji movie or I now can spend my Friday nights watching Blind Date and The Crystal Maze in a de-ja-vu filled double bill. The movie, and the characters, are very nostalgic for the first one with clips constantly being shown of that classic original, the characters retelling very familiar stories from that time plus some iconic music making a comeback on the soundtrack. And what’s great is that while the film is not completely down on the idea of nostalgia, it’d be very hypocritical for it to be so, it certainly isn’t exactly kind to it.
It shows how dwelling too much in the past can stop you going forward into the future and making the same mistakes that you made in the past. It’s a great way to bring a quintessential 90s film right into the 21st century.
Let’s discuss the famous four for a bit. A strength that continues from the first film is the director Danny Boyle’s (Slumdog Millionaire) ability to make a batch of unlikable characters into ones you engage with and want to follow on their journey. Because that is incredibly hard to do, especially when you give them very little charm like these guys. Renton betrayed his friends and makes excuses for it, Sick Boy (Jonny Le Miller, Elementary) is malicious and Begbie (Robert Carlyle, 28 Weeks Later) is just a psycho. And yes, that leaves Spud (Ewen Bremner, Black Hawk Down) who is likable, but I feel like that’s more down to the fact he is rather hopeless recovering addict. And despite the fact only 25% of the main characters are likable, you do want to follow these guys adventures, mainly because you know something mad is going to happen soon.
Part of the reason you keep going with these characters though is that they are always given interesting things to do. This time, Renton and Sick Boy, who goes by Simon now, team up to try and get a brothel going. Considering we know that both of these characters are pretty hopeless, you do wonder how this will end and it leaves to some very entertaining scenes. Yes, scamming the EU for money for the brothel goes surprisingly well but they are also forced to sing hateful sectarian songs to make sure they aren’t beaten up to death. These are very entertaining scenes which only these characters could get involved with.
And something I’ve always appreciated from both T2 Trainspotting and the original is that because Danny Boyle is directing a very glum film in the worst places in Edinburgh, he doesn’t just follow Ken Loach’s lead and make everything look very dreary. Boyle manages to make everything seem very vibrant, even in places where it looks like you might get stabbed, and probably will get stabbed if Begbie is anywhere near. He uses very unique camera movements and builds odd sets which you’d usually only see in sci-fi films to make this film have a completely different look to anything else you’ve seen. And it’s not just to make the film look cool, every unique camera effect enhances the story or mood in a way that just a standard medium shot wouldn’t do.
Unfortunately, T2 Trainspotting isn’t perfect. First off is a problem that has carried over from the first. The characters we see are portrayed as the dregs in the society, the sort you’d cross the street to avoid. So I do find it weird that they can speak in very eloquent sentences and spout off some rather good philosophy. I get that the ‘Choose Life’ is a great slogan and has been used brilliantly to advertise the film over the last few months, but I don’t think a failed career man and recovered heroin addict would be able to use it so well. Also the climactic scenes are spoiled somewhat by very poor music choices. The soundtrack for this film is great, but weirdly for these incredibly dramatic scenes they end up using what sound like album tracks from people who lost in the opening round of The Voice. It really lessens the impact these scenes could have had.
T2 Trainspotting could have been a massive trainwreck. The original film is something that sums up the 90s incredibly well and there was no reason why it should have been been possible to be updated to the 2017 we live in now. But yet because the movie steers into the skid and makes it all about the passage of time, all about how times have changed yet some people have not, it ends up being a brilliant sequel and the best we could have hoped for when returning to this world of dubious character.