T2: Trainspotting 2

Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie have a rehab reunion, and the result is both touching and intoxicating.

Film Review by Joseph Walsh | 20 Jan 2017
Film title: T2: Trainspotting 2
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle
Release date: 27 Jan
Certificate: 18

Let’s face it, anticipation was bound to be high for T2: Trainspotting. Would Danny Boyle take us on a nostalgia-fuelled trip back to the sticky-floored boozers of Leith, reuniting us with skagheads Renton, Spud, and Sick Boy, staring on as Begbie offers anyone nearby a Glasgow kiss? Or would he spit in our face like the original did, forcing us to confront the bleak reality of now, laced with the spirit of punk that made the ‘96 original so important to British film culture? Which would he choose?

The answer is best summed up in a scene at a memorial for Tommy, the fifth member of the gang who was last seen in the original face down in his kitten-soiled flat. Jonny Lee Miller’s Sick Boy turns to Renton (Ewan McGregor), who's returned home after two decades, and declares, “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth.” Boyle knows full well we'll be comparing it to the original, so he tosses in the callbacks, and brazenly embraces it.

Renton is 20 years clean and addicted to jogging, Spud (Ewen Bremner) isn’t, Sick Boy is still pulling fast ones, and Begbie, still a livewire, has broken out of prison. They are sadder and greyer, but no less addictive.

Renton and his old pals are now slapped with extra fat around the waist, thinner hair lines and wrinkles around the eyes. They are older, not much wiser, and the film, like the characters, fumes with the regret of middle age. Renton is trying to amend for the sins of the past, pairing up with Sick Boy on a deranged scheme to set up a brothel after failing to make it in Amsterdam.

We meet a few other old faces, including a brief glimpse of James Cosmo, but we are squarely focused on the four leads, with the few female characters, including newcomer Anjela Nedyalkova, given little scope. The sequel that Irvine Welsh wrote for Trainspotting is there in the gaps, but it feels like years of rewrites have edged it out.

As they tread the streets of their old haunts, they are knocked back by what 20 years has done to Edinburgh. Cool Britannia and Britpop have come and gone, and in its wake is the digital revolution, looked at with some smart scorn by the director.

Plot isn’t the point here. T2 is messy, befuddled, and a little disjointed, but still fuelled by the energy of the original. It manages to escape sequel syndrome and is more like a rehab reunion. Most surprising of all is that Boyle has made a touching movie that avoids sentiment but still manages to intoxicate.

Released by Sony Pictures