Far away from the doomed belated sequel many expected but also not quite the top-notch follow-up fans were hoping for, the clunkily-titled T2 Trainspotting – because someone apparently found that Terminator 2 nod way too funny during the marketing brainstorm – is a mostly triumphant return for the central quartet, and a reliably stylish winner from Danny Boyle.
It’s 20 years since the events of the first movie, and Renton (Ewan McGregor) is now living drug-free in Amsterdam, while Spud (Ewen Bremner) continues to wrestle with heroin addiction, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) has moved onto cocaine and complex blackmail scams, and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still rotting away in jail. Circumstances bring the foursome back together, and of course, they haven’t forgotten Renton doing a runner with $16,000 the last time they saw him.
Trainspotting 2 is the latest in a long line of nostalgic, after-the-fact sequels, but it smartly spends much of its run-time lamenting the dangers of rose-tinted glasses and the importance of looking forward. There are frequent callbacks to the iconography of the first film, but returning screenwriter John Hodge doesn’t overdo it, and so the tips of the hat mostly feel earned.
The script’s main problem is the overt convenience involved in bringing the four principals back together, especially with Renton and Spud at an extremely opportune, almost divine moment, and the lazily written means through which Begbie gets out of jail. It’s all stage setting, though, and once the occasionally clumsy first act is out of the way it finds a much more comfortable rhythm.
The big difference to the focal dynamic this time is the introduction of Veronica (Anjela Nedyalkova), Sick Boy’s beautiful young lady friend who is the closest thing the movie has to an audience character, but she’s no mere Mary Sue even if her through-line is ultimately incredibly predictable.
Taking a look backwards at four souls many viewers thought they’d never see again, T2 manages to hit some potent emotional notes, retaining the same life-affirming quality of the original film, but ultimately proving less viscerally disturbing but at the same time much more sad and world-worn. Accept the contrivances and it’s a fond return to form for these characters.
Boyle directs the hell out of it even though some of Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography looks rather on the overly-lit Netflix comedy side of things, while the performances, especially Carlyle’s monstrous Begbie, are terrific. It’s a shame more room wasn’t made for Kelly Macdonald’s Diane, but to the same token, perhaps it would’ve seemed forced.
T2 may not be a classic like the ground-breaking original, but it sits a few comfortable notches beneath it as a heartfelt, entertaining successor.
T2 Trainspotting is in UK cinemas now and US cinemas March 17th