Review: T2 Trainspotting

Danny Boyle gets the old crew back together for a depressing, but altogether satisfying foray into the middle-aged minds of our beloved Scottish fuck ups…

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Due to a rare reversal of North America’s usually advantageous cinematic release dates, I was already fully aware of T2 Trainspotting’s positive reputation long before it finally dropped here in Vancouver. As a result, I went in confident and, true to form, came out thoroughly satisfied. T2 is hardly a perfect film, but it’s about as good as a twenty-years-later sequel to a seminal, stone cold classic is likely to get. Not only does director Danny Boyle enable our boys (and pretty much everyone else from the original) to slip with ease into the self-loathing skins of their former selves, he goes on to piece together a thoroughly satisfactory, if depressing swansong for the junkies we hate to love.

When the initial teaser trailer popped up out of the blue last year, everything immediately looked legit. Director, cast; everyone was back. This wasn’t merely a cash in, but was being taken seriously from the ground up. Rather than simply producing the continued story of Irvine Welsh’s characters with the power to pull audiences in regardless, we’re treated to additional layers of a contemporary social commentary.

Whereas Mark and friends once at least had the potential to still lead a happy, healthy life with the springboard of youth beneath them, here we find them on the brink of, or already at rock bottom, following a long, dark downward spiral. It’s a morbid reminder of how far there is to go when it comes to dealing with controlled substance addiction in Britain, and the long chains that remain attached to its victims, even after they’ve managed to escape the worst of it. Punctuating the plight of our main characters and those around them is a bleakly relevant realm of subtext related to Britain’s unseen crumbling infrastructure and current backward direction, such as the outsourcing of its prison services to incompetent private organizations such as G4S, and soon-to-vanish financial and business opportunities in the wake of the nation’s departure from the European Union.

Running through the middle of the commentary is the real challenge for Boyle: the core content, which thankfully makes the grade in the grand scheme of things. While the plot is far looser than the original, with a fair few questionable decisions and over the top events finding their way into multiple story arcs in sometimes clunky fashion, the end result justifies the means in the sense that the characters themselves and the context of their world are developed sufficiently.

The prime example is Ewen Bremner’s “Spud” Murphy, who progresses beyond the status of a mere junkie to become a fully rounded character and the true sympathetic hope of the four (credit to Bremner for a marvellous performance). Ewan McGregor’s “Rent Boy” Renton and Jonny Lee Miller’s “Sick Boy” Simon are the driving force for the majority, but although they’re not as interesting as they were back in 1996, they each have a few standout moments of interchangeable vulnerability and comradery. Even Robert Carlyle’s imperious “Franco” Begbie is given another dimension, though of course his primary purpose remains rooted in anger and violence. By clarifying the haunted past of which he forever finds himself unable to escape, transparent credence is given to Begbie’s psychotic nature. At the same time, Carlyle, as usual, excels in making us believe that Begbie could have absolutely anyone on the face of the planet if he fancied it.

From a technical standpoint, the direction and cinematography are first class, mirroring and building on the original to form a style that’s both familiar and unique. Watching Boyle – now twenty years matured –  return to where it all began with the status and evolved quality of a bona fide Hollywood A-lister is a fascinating experience. The varying techniques used to jump through time and in and out of minds in an always self-aware fashion is as masterful and fresh as it was in 1996. Fortunately, it’s also treated organically; intertwining perfectly with the journey of our characters and the overall Trainspotting universe. The thumping soundtrack, unsurprisingly, compliments this approach with an old-but-youthful spirit and an abundance of memory-sparking callbacks.

A fine follow up to one of the all time British greats, T2 Transporting demonstrates that, though the lust for life may fade, there’s always a chance it can be resuscitated.

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