If Sick Boy’s question – “So what have you been up to for twenty years? – was aimed at Mark, ours is aimed at Danny Boyle. Twenty one years after the release of Trainspotting, a sequel lands. What the hell took them so long?
The first ten minutes or so reveal the fate of the boys, each doing his own thing twenty years after the events of the first film. Renton’s (Ewan McGreggor) return to Edinburgh disrupts the routine of Simon/Sick Boy’s (Johnny Lee Miller) and Spuds (Ewen Bremner) lives, and Begbies (Robert Carlyle) leave from prison makes sure the visit does not go smoothly.
The mood of the film is set moments after it starts. Through Jon Harris’ masterful edits, T2 ensures the audience understands it’s just a more mature, modern version of its predecessor. Cutting from scenes of the characters’ calm times as school boys, some 40 years ago, to imagery of today’s lightning-fast world serves as assurance that, although the times have changed, feelings have not.
And Trainspotting’s feel remains a unique one. Its sequel is loyal to the Cool Britannia vibe set back in the 90’s. Whether Boyle’s approach is merely a faithful adaptation of 2002’s Porno, or a more relevant “you need to chill” aimed at a rather uptight world is unclear at the moment, but the creation of an entire sequence in the presence of a sectarian crowd might hint at the filmmaker’s intentions.
Queen’s ‘Radio Gaga” playing in a very crowded, very colorful club creates a high that brings the audience closer to the heroine-pumped characters. The polychromatic visuals sink wonderfully into the upbeat soundtrack (which is downright terrific, by the way) to create a constant feel of joy, or at least emotionality, that tracks through the entire film all the way until the credits stop rolling.
But if Trainspotting was about the lightheadedness of youth, T2 is about the bitter reality of growing old. No matter how upbeat it gets, it never exceeds the predecessor. It’s just a sober adult going through a funky midlife crisis.
Perhaps at 46, Renton’s life should’ve gone in a radically different direction, yet it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else than mischief alongside Sick Boy. The film doesn’t even waste any time showing how different their lives could’ve been. Renton’s reality is a sombre one. Although that train is full of life and good fun, it’s still going in circles: “Choose watching history repeat itself.” He approves.
And so do the others. Renton’s return serves as a wake up call as to what they have all been doing for twenty years. Since that question’s answer is “not much,” T2 sort of takes off right after Trainspotting ended, and builds on that.
It further explores the relationships binding all four characters, delving deeper than ever into the dynamic that makes up each one. The chemistry between both characters and actors elevates the storytelling. How these develop over the course of the two films is a marvel to witness, but T2 is also about self-discovery and how these characters sometimes look inwards to find what they’re looking for, to move on. They’ve all grown up.
At last, Boyle and writer John Hodge offer the closest thing there is to closure. Tying up what’s been an open ending for over two decades was a statement that the boys were alive and well, and a much-needed reunion for a proper farewell. Knowing that, Boyle often replays shots from the original to give a deeper significance to moments long gone. It’s all related in one way or another. It all means something to these characters.
The narrative follows in those footsteps. Looping around the same focal point, albeit in a different manner, creates a sense of bittersweet nostalgia that shines a different light on Renton and the boys: Twenty years ago, they all had an opportunity to get out. Now, it seems, they’re trying to get back in. However bad that might sound, they seamlessly bring the audience back in with them.
T2 is not better than Trainspotting, but it improves it. After twenty one years, that’s all that matters.