Trainspotting (1996) was, for many, the defining film of Generation X, a hedonistic high-energy, cocktail of heroin addiction, pop-cultural critique and violent dysfunctional mateship. Filled with smart, lacerating dialogue and propelled by one of the best and most cleverly deployed soundtracks in movie history it was a ferocious statement of a youth culture questioning the consumerism, conservatism and political passivity that had engulfed the Western world since the 1980’s.
It was always going to be an near-insurmountable task for a sequel to live up to the expectations raised by the first film and while T2 doesn’t reach those lofty heights and even strikes a few unexpected lows, it contains enough clever, inventive film-making to (just) satisfy fans of the original.
Adapted from both the original Trainspotting novel and Irvine Welsh’s sequel Porno, the film which is set in the present day, re-unites us with the quartet of Scottish lads: calculating anti-hero Renton (Ewan McGregor), sleazeball huckster Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller), endearing but hopeless smack addict Spud (Ewen Bremner) and volatile, contemptible thug Begby (Robert Carlisle), whom we first encountered in the original film. T2 sees Renton, who people might recall stole the money from his mates following a drug deal, gripped by nostalgia and guilt and unwisely returning from Amsterdam to his Edinburgh home town. Not surprisingly, his criminally inclined former friends Sick Boy and Begby want to exact revenge on him; Sick Boy with an elaborate financial and property scam and Begby with a tire iron. As Sick Boy sneakily seduces Renton into his nefarious plot, memories both agonising and ecstatic of their lives together begin to surface.
Apparently, the film had scripting problems and it shows. It’s an odd grab-bag of nostalgia, mid-life crisis, psychedelic trip, buddy film and prosaic crime drama. Impressively, director Danny Boyle manages to distil something memorable and coherent from this mish-mash of ideas. Even more than the first film he punctuates T2 with surreal special effects to create an otherworldly and off-kilter reality for the characters.
Not everything works, though, some of the set-pieces seem forced and aren’t as potent or funny as they might have seemed on paper. These include a strange trip Renton and Sick Boy take to a right wing loyalist pub where, in a very contrived sequence, they’re called upon to improvise an anti-Catholic sing-a-long.
Importantly, though, the characters are still compelling with Renton evoking a street smart urchin even at 46, porno entrepreneur Sick Boy sleazy and repulsive but showing glimmers of humanity, Spud still hilarious and sad and Begby still a monster although we learn a little more about his background. Added to the cast is Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), Sick Boy’s Bulgarian girlfriend who adds much-needed humanity to their lives.
While hardly an emotional film T2 has more of a melancholic tone than the original with themes of reflection and regret constantly surfacing. Boyle and writers Irvine Welsh and John Hodge attempt some of the same flippant humour of the original film although it doesn’t always work as well.
The original film’s soundtrack was its beating heart and one intimately entwined with popular culture of the time. T2, though, is about four men out of synch with their time and with the world, so a similar soundtrack would have been inappropriate. Instead, this film features earlier tacks such as Blondie’s ‘Dreaming’ and Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ that defined the youth which they now nostalgically crave. There are also new versions of the songs from original film that sound like ghostly echoes of a lost time.
Too much will be expected of this film and some rabid fans of the original will be disappointed but Danny Boyle proves he has enough imagination as a film-maker to transform an apparently troubled script into something intoxicating.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Director(s): Danny Boyle.
Release date: 23rd Feb 2017.
Running time: 117 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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