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‘T2 Trainspotting’ Review

Getting older, but not growing up

T2 Trainspotting
• March 24, 2017 4:55 am

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T2 Trainspotting picks up 20 years after the events in the original film, 1996's episodic blast through Scotland's drug-infused underground that culminated in Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) absconding with the proceeds of a medium-sized drug deal. Flush with cash, Mark jetted off to Amsterdam and wound up with a white-collar office gig, leaving mates Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) high and dry.

Renton is thinking of his former friends when he passes out on a treadmill in T2‘s opening moments. And then we're on to the opening credits, where we see visions of the four mates as children playing in a schoolyard, the names of the actors who portrayed their adult forms superimposed over nine-year-old boys. Hauntingly unnamed is a redheaded kid hanging about with the others. We understand this is Tommy (played in the first film by Kevin McKidd), the straight shooter whose eventual addiction to heroin and death from HIV was chronicled in the first film.

Tommy's ghost haunts the proceedings. You can feel his presence throughout, a somber reminder of the needle and the damage done. You wonder if he could've helped Spud kick his habit or kept Begbie out of prison, from which the notorious brawler escapes in T2‘s opening act. Perhaps he could've helped Simon—who has traded heroin for cocaine and spends his days earning a few extra quid each month through petty extortion—make something more of himself. These flashbacks to Tommy and the constant reminders of his fate put a much-needed damper on the madcap, propulsive exuberance of the original film.

T2 is a more contemplative movie than its predecessor, concerned with a life poorly lived. Renton's back in Scotland in the hopes of reconnecting with his old friends, a renewing of friendships that Simon wants little part of. He's still smarting over the way that Renton screwed him over, and wants revenge. Or, at least, he wants revenge at first. As the two spend more time together they find themselves lapsing into bad old habits and coming up with new schemes.

The two find themselves in competition for the attention and affection of Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). She's an Eastern European import who uses her feminine wiles to aid Simon in the hopes of becoming the madam of the brothel he's planning to open, the seed funding for which he and Renton hope to acquire from some small business loan program operated by the European Union.

Fans of the 2002 book Porno, from which this movie is adapted, may be disappointed. Director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge diverge greatly from the source material in ways they did not with Irvine Welsh's 1993 debut, Trainspotting. The 1993 book was feral and primal, a darkly comic glimpse into a bottomless pit of hopelessness and spiritual rot. It was less a novel than a collection of short stories out of which Boyle and Hodge stitched together an episodic-but-endearing-and-enduring film. Porno, meanwhile, feels like "a confection," as Boyle put it when I interviewed him last week—a sugary nothing that stands in sharp contrast to the tartness of its predecessor.

Boyle compared the first novel to Ulysses. "Irvine was writing himself out of addiction by trying to create testimony to his friends and this crazy stuff that they'd been through because of that life together in the '80s," he said. "The second book [is] so self conscious about writing a narrative, probably with the film partly in mind, certainly with the idea of the popularity of the film means we can go back to it, to these characters—and it feels … like a rehash."

T2, by contrast, isn't a rehash. It's an evolution, one that uses the power of the past to inform the peculiarities of the present. It's infused with sadness, a lingering melancholy. The boys from Edinburgh have gotten older, but they haven't really grown up—a pathetic, but perhaps fitting, fate.

Published under: Movie Reviews