Thursday, 23 February 2017

T2 Trainspotting

(R) 3.5 out of 5

Director: Danny Boyle.

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald.

Choose life. Choose upside-down deer projections on your wall.

Sick Boy (Miller) defines nostalgia as being "a tourist in your own youth" in a particularly meta moment in this 20-years-later sequel of the cult classic.

T2 Trainspotting (why is it called that? Why not just Trainspotting 2?) relishes that definition, holding a mirror up to itself and its audience, then proceeding to do a massive line of coke off said mirror.

With any belated sequel, the initial reaction is one of tempered excitement. It's kind of like a high school reunion - won't it be great to see the old gang again and find out what they've been up to? Then you realise it will never live up to either your expectations or your glory days and you'll probably just end up disappointed and pining for your youth. Ah, high school....

T2 is all those things. You're excited at first, but it can't live up to the original and then you're kind of disappointed. Having said all that, T2 is the best it could possibly be and when shorn of that nostalgic tourism as much as is possible considering how much the film is wrapped around and dependent on its predecessor, it's actually better than it has any right to be.

As mentioned, this is 20 years on from Renton (McGregor) screwing over his so-called mates for the grand sum of 16,000 quid. Sick Boy is running a patron-less pub in between pimping and scamming, Begbie (Carlyle) is in prison, and Spud (Bremner) is still a junkie.

And then back to Edinburgh comes Renton, fresh from a heart attack, looking to figure out where it all went wrong and still wondering how exactly one chooses life.

Despite being laden with references to the original, T2 is smart enough to avoid outright attempts at replication. There's the obligatory heroin scene, but thankfully this is a one-off. The characters have largely grown up and moved on, or perhaps more correctly, they've gotten older and the world has changed around them. The main theme is no longer addiction - this time it's about ageing. Renton's heart attack makes him question his place in the world, and while the other main players are less self-aware, his return sets them on new paths, for better or worse.

It's the characters that make this worthwhile, not necessarily the story or Boyle's directorial tics or tricks. Getting the gang back together again is done in a natural way and how the characters have changed (or not) is believable. Everyone is exactly where you expect them to be. In Begbie, this time around, the story has something the first film didn't have - a villain - while the mending of Renton and Sick Boy's relationship is interesting - they're first reunion in 20 years is an hilarious highlight.

The new character Veronika, played by Bulgarian actress Anjela Nedyalkova, doesn't get a huge amount to do, but does help demonstrate how dumb everyone around her is. It would have been nice to see more of Macdonald's Diane, but it would have stretched the natural order of the sequel's world.

Everyone's heart is in the right place for this. Boyle probably got asked about this sequel more than anything else over the past decade or so, but T2 doesn't smack of a cash grab. It's reverent toward the original - in one of the best scenes, Spud, Renton and Sick Boy return to the spot where Tommy attempted to take them on a walk and get in touch with their Scottishness. Not only do they pay tribute to their fallen comrade, but Renton and Sick Boy reflect on the horrible repercussions their actions have had.

In the original, these guys were bad people doing bad things, but they were young and it was fun. This time around, they're trying to figure out what comes next, what they leave behind, and what it's all about - themes that will speak to a lot of people.

But T2 lives too heavily in the shadow of its parent, which is one of the greatest films of the '90s, to be truly great on its own. While it's a good path to retread, the footsteps are too big to follow. All in all, T2 is an adequate companion piece to a far more definitive tome.

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