- 23 Jan 17
A bad sequel can drag an iconic original movie down. Thankfully, however, Danny Boyle has beaten that trap with his update of Irvine Welsh's landmark Trainspotting
Making sequels to successful movies is a risky proposition at the best of times, but when the original film is widely considered a cult classic then you can be in serious danger of retroactively damaging it (think Jaws 2 or Grease 2).
Thankfully, the great news is that, 21 years on from 1996’s zeitgeist-surfing Trainspotting, director Danny Boyle’s rather curiously titled T2 Trainspotting – which reunites most of the original cast and crew – doesn’t at all tarnish the legacy of the iconic original.
It’s not quite as good either, mind. But given the blinding originality of Trainspotting, that would simply have been too much to ask. As with the heroin that permeated the original, the first hit is always the best.
Not that T2 is a movie about heroin. The characters still take drugs (mostly cocaine) but, for the most part, it’s about coming to terms with middle-age and mortality, when your mind is tricking you into believing that you’re still in your twenties. The script is very loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel, Porno, but given that that novel, published in 2002, was largely about the gonzo porn scene it was too dated – and potentially controversial – to faithfully adapt. Instead, scriptwriter John Hodge has taken a couple of plot strands from both novels and weaved them into something entirely new that still remains true to the invigorating spirit of the source material.
Renton’s famous ‘Choose Life’ monologue has been updated: “Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares.” However, now all in their mind-forties, the four main protagonists haven’t really changed much. Two decades on, in many ways their lives are even grimmer. The violently psychopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still in prison at the beginning of the film, but not for very long. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is scraping a living as a sexual blackmailer and the landlord of his aunt’s grotty pub.
The hapless Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still addicted to smack, estranged from his wife, and failing miserably in his attempts to lead a halfway normal life. Irvine Welsh himself reprises his cameo as former heroin dealer Mikey Forrester; although still a criminal, he’s the only character who appears to have done well for himself in life.
Trainspotting ended with Renton (Ewan McGregor) ripping his friends off in a London skag deal and fleeing to Amsterdam. Twenty years on, following the apparent break-up of his marriage, he returns to his native Leith, hoping to make amends and come to terms with the ghosts of his past. Sick Boy is less than impressed when he’s handed an envelope with four grand in it. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he seethes. “Buy a time machine?” As Renton departs, he yells, “You haven’t even added fucking interest!” Clearly, he’s not the sort to forgive or forget. But he decides to lull Renton into a false sense of security before taking revenge.
Naturally, Begbie is a lot less subtle. Having escaped from the prison hospital, he too returns to Leith – and will happily murder Renton on sight. And so the scene for a major showdown is set.
While it’s dark, for the most part T2 is a lot less gritty than the original. There are no excrement smeared toilet bowls, heroin overdoses or dead babies crawling on ceilings. Though, having said that, we do witness Spud explosively vomiting into the plastic bag he was using in a failed suicide attempt.
The film is slick, fast-paced and often highly comedic (the scenes with Begbie and his nerdy son are truly hilarious), but there are many nostalgic moments and flashbacks to the original. Neither McGregor nor Miller seem to have aged all that much, but occasional scenes of more youthful versions of themselves are still emotionally impactful and poignant.
The soundtrack – featuring Ireland’s Rubberbandits, amongst many others – is superb. Some of the songs from the original have been reworked to highlight significant moments in the film. Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ has been slowed down – played over a flashback scene of Renton and Sick Boy’s first ever heroin fix. Shimmering shades of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ are also used in another Super-8 filmed flashback to their imperfect schooldays.
At one point Renton returns to his old childhood bedroom – decorated with train-themed wallpaper – and drops a needle on a record. We hear the opening beats of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ before he takes it off, unable to bear the reminder of his mis-spent youth. Later, as the plot gathers pace, the same track is aggressively reworked by The Prodigy.
Although there are female characters, this is a male-dominated affair. Anjela Nedyalkova plays Veronika, Sick Boy’s prostitute partner in crime, and Shirley Henderson is somewhat wasted as Spud’s wife. Even Kelly McDonald, who played Renton’s teenage girlfriend of sorts in Trainspotting, is underutilized in a two-minute onscreen appearance. But given the nutty antics of their duplicitous anti-hero male counterparts, it’s a small complaint.
Ultimately, against not insignificant odds, Danny Boyle and co. have succeeded in making a terrific sequel that enhances rather than diminishes the original.
Having seen the first film many times, this reviewer can’t tell how it might work as a standalone; it’ll be curious to see how the Instagram generation respond. It isn’t strictly necessary to have seen Trainspotting to enjoy T2, but it would obviously help viewers to know where the characters are coming from.
There’s already been some talk of making this a trilogy… and it would certainly be interesting to see where these Edinburgh misfits are going to end up. If Trainspotting 3 does happen, we already know that it won’t be anywhere good. Or at least we think we do…
T2 Trainspotting is directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Shirley Henderson. 117 mins. It goes on general release on January 27th.