More of a nostalgic love letter to an industry shaking movie of the 90s than anything powerful in its own right.
Mark Renton, clean of drugs for twenty years, returns to Scotland in a bid to reconnect with his old friends and unsurprisingly finds them all as awkward and deprived as they had always been.
While Irvine Welsh’s book Trainspotting had sequels (no, I’ve not read any of them) it comes as something of a surprise that a sequel to 1996’s ground-breaking British adaptation would arrive now. Certainly, it is one thing one cannot shake when watching Danny Boyle and the returning cast’s new endeavour; is it all too late?
The bid to recapture lightning in a bottle is something Hollywood at large is desperate for these days: Star Wars, Jurassic Park, the wayward Ghostbusters and Terminator franchises, all determined to relive the creative spontaneity of the late eighties and nineties. One would have thought Boyle and co. having created such a controversial movie back then wouldn’t succumb to the same ethos.
Sadly, at its worst, the perplexingly titled “T2 – Trainspotting” (can I please just call it Trainspotting 2?) is nothing more than a wandering, convenient, self-indulgent nostalgia trip, containing little to nothing of the tone or theme the original relished so darkly within. The realisation of this occurs when Renton (Ewan McGregor) just starts on a revised monologue on “Chose Life”, completely left-field, unprovoked, middle of the film, not internalised and including an explaination on why he did the monologue in the first film. No! No, you are ruining the magic!
The overall story doesn’t feel as tight as before. It wanders and characters commit to things, do things and say things that should surely have consequences (and certainly would have in the original’s intense realism) but apparently coast through it all without concern.
With a soundtrack not living up to the original’s (or even Boyle’s own reputation) you are probably thinking: “Wow, Cinema Cocoa did not like this movie!” right about now. It is more a disappointment. I would have liked more on these characters and their struggles with modern life; to see a perspective of Scotland and Britain in the new millennium. I think I counted one or two fractions of scenes that addressed this, but in no way was it a overarching theme.
It is still a well made movie. Totally reliant on working knowledge of the original film, regardless of its flashbacks to old footage, but the actors are having a blast here. Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller probably steal the show, while Ewen Bremner is also having the time of his life as Spud. In fact… the only one who seems to be coasting a little is McGregor, but playing the literal straight man isn’t the most exciting material. In fact perhaps the most grounded and compelling moments come from Bremner and Carlyle unexpectedly! It did get a lot of laughs and does have some memorable moments scattered throughout (especially a scene involving the year 1690, that’s all I will say!)
But… one cannot shake the notion that in twenty years time, Trainspotting 2 will not be considered a milestone in cinema history, certainly not for British film history. Compared to its predecessor, this film plays it remarkably safe! Whether this is due to desensitisation or not it is hard to tell, but it feels like all of 1996’s controversy has been sucked out, changing what was once a drug-fueled riot into an nostalgia-powered, almost morose, revenge movie.
Big fans of Trainspotting will appreciate seeing these characters return and the memories it lavishly and deliberately pulls up, but if you have no knowledge of the history then you will probably find it a funny film but little more. Personally, I wanted it to be more impactful; I wanted it to be socially challenging and gut-wrenching like the original, as much as I enjoyed seeing the energy these actors still have!