T2 Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle, does the seemingly impossible, it returns to a well-known and beloved film with a sequel, and somehow is able to both be its own film, while still paying respecting the original. Now, the film isn’t perfect – one or two flaws do standout – but the film is able to add to the characters in a way that feels meaningful, and doesn’t ever feel like it is tarnishing the legacy of a film phenomenon; like the original Trainspotting was. So let’s make our way into the fuller review, to see just what the film is able to achieve.
The story sees the original characters return. Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton – played by Ewan McGregor – returns to Edinburgh to rekindle some of the friendships that he pushed aside in the want for money. As you can imagine, his welcome home isn’t the most… well welcoming of ones. Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy – played by Ewen Bremner – Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson – played by Jonny Lee Miller and Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie – played by Robert Carlyle – all have their unique reactions to seeing him, but a deep and long-lasting friendship is the thing that drives these 4, and it is the thing that will drive them in this film – just not always to the best places.
What I think this film does well – not only as a sequel to Trainspotting, but as an example to other films wanting to do a sequel, with similar circumstances – is that it takes the time to build upon and add meaningfully to the original characters. It’s of course fun at first to see the old characters back, and to see what madness they may be wrapped up in now. But that’s a fun that’ll only get you so far before you start wanting something more substantial. T2 Trainspotting does that. In fact it does it so well, that it’s probably the main reason why this film is being so well received.
What this film had, was an opportunity. An opportunity to return to some characters whose stories weren’t over. When Renton walked over that bridge, money in hand, that wasn’t where those characters stories ended, they continued on. And so now to see them all 20 years later, and to see where life has taken them, is something that is so rich in possibilities (from a writing standpoint and a character standpoint).
T2 Trainspotting takes full advantage of that opportunity, and I feel, really does build upon all the characters in ways that feel right. I never felt the film was cheating someone out of worthy development for the sake of a particular plot point, nor did anyone feel wasted for the sake of a particular set-piece. Everyone is given the time in this film to shine – even though the ways they shine aren’t always the most pleasant to see. The film did of course have the benefit of there being a book to work from, and the writer of that book is a creative participant in the film. But it is still really nice to see that everyone involved made sure what they were doing (the responsibility they had) was not tarnishing the memory or feeling like an unnecessary cash-in on a beloved film.
It’s also nice to see all the original cast back for the film, and doing such a good job evolving with the characters. Everyone slotted back in perfectly and seemed to easily pick back up the tone and rhythm of their characters. In particular: Robert Carlyle, who seems to have been born to play the madness of ‘Begbie’. But even though he brings back that unpredictable madness, he also has some more emotional moments in the film. We see glimpses of a damaged man, one who has suffered because of who he is. And it did exactly what I wanted this film to do, it added to the character, showed more of him, and never felt like it was just trying to re-capitalise on what made him so memorable in the first place.
The same can in fact be said for all returning characters. We are shown other sides to them; areas of them that weren’t apparent in the first film, or are newly developing within them in this film; Spud’s talent for writing, the depth in which Simon and Mark’s friendships truly went and how Mark’s betrayal forever changed it. It was things like this (and much more) that we wanted from a sequel, and I’m so glad that they understood that when they made it. If nothing else, what, T2 Trainspotting does with its characters is its greatest achievement.
But I did say in the beginning that, T2 Trainspotting isn’t a perfect film, and it is because of my next point that I think that. The actual plot in the film, the main element that drives the majority of the characters in the film is pretty weak, and largely forgettable. The scheme that Simon, Mark and Spud see themselves getting wrapped up in is not that compelling of a thing to watch. Every time they came back to it, or there was a scene in which it was the primary focus, I did find my attention wavering. It felt too much like a placeholder element; something that was there to simply give the characters something to do, while they were also exploring the depths of their friendships.
It does offer some hilarious moments – one in particular, that if you live in Scotland will have you amazed at the balls it took to have it so prominent in the film. But other than a few laughs, I mainly just wanted the film to get back to the more developmental aspects of the characters. While it certainly didn’t ruin my experience with the film, it is the main aspect of it that I find to be the most forgettable.
What wasn’t forgettable, however, was seeing the very clear visual evolution of Danny Boyle as a director. Boyle has never been a slouch when it comes to adding layers of visual delight within his films (the original Trainspotting being a perfect example of that) but for me, it was really interesting to see how his style has changed and grown as he has worked on more films. And now with T2, we can really see how he has developed and refined his style. What Boyle does so well, is he uses some unique visual overlay to convey information to the audience. His techniques are almost fantasy like, but what they do is take a situation in which something is being described to us or laid out for us, and he overlays it with visuals that add to the experience of what we’re watching; making for something that not only engages your ears and your mind, but it also involves arguably the most important sense: your eyes. This is something many filmmakers seem to forget about, but not Danny Boyle. He makes sure every sense is involved and has a part to play in experiencing the film.
And the aspect to Danny Boyle’s little visual delights that I think worked the best in the film was when he would have the past and the present intersect with each other. Seeing Spud standing on the very road that him and guys ran down in the first film and then to actually have it seem like they are there, running down that road as current day Spud watches on, creates this really interesting effect. It’s like a combined burst of nostalgia and emotional nudging. And best of all, it didn’t feel cheap or used only as an unnecessary reference to a better time. It feels right within the context of the film and these little intersecting moments of history and present day, add to the whole experience of both the characters in the film and us the audience, who are watching.
The idea of a sequel to Trainspotting has been bouncing around for a while, and every time it has come up as a possibility, I have been against the idea; thinking it could never work; you’d never be able to capture the magic of the original film. Well… I was wrong. While the film doesn’t have the magic of the original (which is something I don’t think would be possible) it is able to carry on the legacy of the film and really add to what was a cult classic – one of those films you just had to see. I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed my time with this film, and as a Scottish lad myself, I can’t tell you how happy I am to not only see my beautiful country on show, but that we have a film that is as good as this one is.
So I’m of course going to recommend T2 Trainspotting. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but goddamn this film is fun, and really makes the effort to build upon what it had, in a respectful and meaningful way. So get yourself out there and enjoy this wee treat of a film.
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