Following a film like Trainspotting, which is held in high regard by all film fans, was going to be difficult for anyone. If anyone was up to the task, it was Danny Boyle – national treasure and Oscar-winning director of the original.
T2 Trainspotting begins with a typically stylish round-up of the main characters’ whereabouts 20 years since we last saw them.
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is in exile in Amsterdam where he has seemingly replaced his addiction to smack with the fitness bug. Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy (Ewen Bremner), however, is still seeking help for his habit. Robert Carlyle’s Francis Begbie is in prison. And Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller) is scratching a living running his aunt’s pub … while also blackmailing rich men with videos of them being done up the arse by a mysterious woman wearing a strap-on dildo.
Once all of the main characters have been reintroduced with gusto, it comes as a huge relief when it dawns on you that this is definitely a Danny Boyle film, and you are in the safest of hands.
Despite Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie being plastered everywhere on posters for the T2 promotion campaign, the plot actually revolves around a new character. It is Veronika – both Sick Boy’s girlfriend and the girl with the strap-on dildo – who holds all the cards in T2.
Renton returns from Amsterdam and is immediately smitten by the beautiful Bulgarian (played by the relatively unknown Anjela Nedyalkova), leading him to become embroiled in one of Sick Boy’s schemes. Which is, of course, to start a brothel on the second floor of the pub for his lovely lady to run.
So begins the daring scam to drum up the money for the business. Begbie, meanwhile, is on the loose and wreaking his own personal brand of havoc.
While all this is happening at what seems like the pace of one of Sick Boy’s coke-fuelled nights in, T2 plays out as a painful lament to lost youth.
Boyle is undoubtedly an expert film maker, and he makes no mistake of driving home the sheer agony of growing old and having nothing good to show for it. It is so excruciating not because the tone of the film is sombre throughout, but because the bursts of cheeriness are so incredibly bright and bold … and yet fleeting. What is more, they always pale in comparison to the joys the characters felt as young lads growing up together. Memories of their youth appear frequently as wonderful dreamlike scenes from which the harsh reality of adulthood always quickly jolts them awake.
This gives the Renton and co. much more depth than they were afforded in Trainspotting. Whether it is light touches such as Begbie’s erectile dysfunction or more important developments, each role is beefed up.
The greatest thing about T2 is its faithfulness to its genesis. Not only does it look back on Trainspotting with fondness and direct references, it is true to everything else about what made the first film great.
Edinburgh plays a much bigger part in this movie. That includes not only the setting of scenes in the city centre and the scenery overlooking it, but also the decision to have Edinburgh hip-hop group Young Fathers provide the thumping heartbeat that keeps life flowing through T2.
One of the main talking points of the first film was of course its incredible soundtrack. It’s usually the first thing anyone says about Trainspotting whenever it comes up in conversation. So, as expected, music plays a big part in the sequel.
There are times when that seems uncomfortable, such as during the somewhat forced club scene when a big crowd on the dancefloor is strutting in sequence to Radio Ga Ga and then It’s Like That by Run-DMC vs Jason Nevins for no apparent reason.
T2 is not the perfect film, but it is the sequel that fans of Trainspotting wanted. It is bold, brash, disgusting, and violent. Yet it is also tender, sweet, and comforting for every adult watching it who can empathise with the pain each character feels about life failing to live up to expectations.