In an oft-sequel heavy age of cinema, we should not be surprised when old classics are resurrected once more after 10, or maybe even 20 years. The quality is uneven, most are comparable to the exhuming of a decomposing corpse, the stench invading our nostrils with no sign of dissipating (I’m looking at you, Bad Santa 2). There are a few who succeed, replacing blatant pastiche with an inventive reworking. To my relief, T2: Trainspotting is the latter and the risk has paid off.
Fear and anxiety can be blamed for our long wait, which gripped director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge. “Of course writing the script was really intimidating because, you know, the success of the first film”, said Hodge in one promotional interview. Not only did these fears drive the production, but also courage and a sense of dynamism – it is just a shame it took this long, the sequel being hindered by a trivial grudge between star Ewan McGregor and Boyle following the actor being replaced by Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000’s The Beach.
“old age has affected them all in different ways”
But now it has finally arrived, replacing the dour Edinburgh pavements with treadmills and exercise gear. Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Scotland to rekindle old relationships with the very friends he betrayed 20 years ago: Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) who bemoans the fact that despite having inherited his aunt’s pub in Leith, the “wave of gentrification has yet to wash over us”, with the surrounding area looking like the valley of ashes from The Great Gatsby. Spud (Ewen Bremner) who retains a boyish innocence that still does not distance his own memory from dark events of his past. While Begbie (Robert Carlyle) resides in prison, ready to hatch an absurdly ill-thought out scheme to break out and seek revenge. Old age has affected them all in different ways, leaving behind sons that do not have the same brash machismo as their forebears, having to confront a confusing benefits system (with Spud it was a bit ‘I, Daniel Blake-esque’), and even a both tragic and hilarious erectile dysfunction sequence.
What begins as a character focused narrative soon transforms into a desperate chase between Begbie and Renton, which doesn’t capture the same frenetic energy as the ending scenes of Trainspotting, but retains a terrifying atmosphere the audience revels in. Hodge’s screenplay is also not afraid to depart from Irvine Welsh’s 2002 novel Porno. Rather than concentrating wholly on Sick Boy’s scams, our attention is repeatedly drawn to Spud, who becomes the spiritual heart of the film whilst pouring over old photos of misspent youth in old Leith haunts, writing on past experiences in Scots vernacular and laying flowers for deceased Tommy at Corrour.
“spud’s nostalgia is captured in the interweaving of shots from the original film in a masterful and dreamlike style of cinematography”
More visually, Spud’s nostalgia is captured in the interweaving of shots from the original film in a masterful and dreamlike style of cinematography, especially the section notably omitted from Trainspotting where Renton and Begbie frequent the dilapidated Leith Central Station, whereupon they discover a drunk, homeless old man who is later revealed to be Begbie’s father. “What yis up tae lads? Trainspottin’, eh?”. This can be attributed to Anthony Dodd Mantle, who deftly splices the high-definition shots of the original; the out of focus shot of Renton walking across Waterloo bridge into his new future remains a highlight in this respect. This is what truly shone out most.
Boyle almost repeatedly has stated that he wanted T2 to acknowledge the original hit, but in a most subtle and ‘Proustian’ way, giving audience members who were old enough to see Trainspotting in 1996 the ‘exquisite pleasure’ of tasting the sweet madeleine that was the ‘Choose Life’ monologue; that was the peak of Britpop; that was New Labour and all greatest moments of the 90s’.
“there was no dry eye among the audience”
The more reflective, and nostalgic tone has led some like Nigel Andrews to comment that T2 did not have “the same kind of focus, or locus, for its dark thrills and morality”. But I would riposte that the themes of ageing and masculinity over time compels the sequel to adopt tones of slowness and of reflection, with the effect of conjuring up moments of sadness and beauty. Begbie troubled relationship with his son provides one such instance, there was no dry-eye among the audience when they reconciled. The contrast in tone between them is underscored by the eclectic mix of music which as with the visual effects, pays homage to the original film whilst also acknowledging how much time has passed. Instead of ‘Born Slippy’, Underworld showcase contemplative ‘Slow Slippy’; the Prodigy remix of Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life adds a darker and more mature timbre.
There are countless moments in cinema when we ask: ‘does a sequel truly justify itself?’. Is it purely a nostalgia trip cloaked in a sad and miserable veneer? The answer for T2 is a definite no. Sick Boy does accuse Renton of being “a tourist in his own youth”, only returning for a sense of nostalgia, but Renton, and indeed all of us cannot help to dwell on how close we are to death and how we should enjoy every moment of our existence. Don’t look back with nostalgia, choose opportunity not betrayal, choose life.