It is the rare occurrence in Hollywood when a sequel comes out that actually feels right. Most, generally speaking, are churned out too soon and for all the wrong reasons, mostly money. However, when there is sincerely more story to tell or a legitimate desire to revisit characters, sequels do make sense. In the case of T2 Trainspotting, both are applicable. The sequel to director Danny Boyle’s 1996 indie classic Trainspotting is not only welcome, but, as it turns out, glorious.
Besides making a bonafide star out of Ewan McGregor, the original Trainspotting was a watershed film for so many reasons. While it might be best remembered for its explicit depiction of heroin use/abuse, it was the dark humor of the script, penned by screenwriter John Hodge (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh) and the vivid characterizations of four working-class Edinburgh youths that captured the attention of audiences everywhere. Low budget and graphic in language and image, the original Trainspotting was raw, honest and packed with surprising emotion, delivered in a stunning package, featuring Boyle’s frenetic direction and full-throttle performances from a memorable cast, including McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Kelly Macdonald.
Everyone returns for T2, which takes place, appropriately, 20 years after the original. The plot is simple: Mark Renton (McGregor) returns to his childhood home of Edinburgh after 20 years away and reconnects with his lifelong mates, Simon (Miller) and Spud (Bremner), who are both in desperate situations of their own. Meanwhile, childhood menace Begbie (Carlyle) is in prison, but maybe not for long. All four are still holding onto certain elements of their past together, particularly an event that was featured at the end of the original film. It seems some debts need to be settled, both financial and emotional, and T2 is not only an exploration of friendship and all its complex facets, but a real examination of what it takes to confront, accept and perhaps even overcome your past.
Even if you never saw the original film, what is so exceptional about T2 is that it stands so well on its own that you never even need to know who these people are to appreciate and get the most out of the story it’s telling. It helps that Boyle does a masterful job of sprinkling in glances back to the original film, to both color in the present-day scenes but to also provide a reminder of our shared history, both as audience and filmmakers—nostalgia and character definition coming together in a perfectly executed way by a cinematic master.
And that’s what makes T2 the best experience I’ve had in the theatre so far this year. Boyle is a passionate filmmaker with a truly deft cinematic skill—his mastery of camera placement, movement, color and music, not to mention the performances he elicits, are the marks of a true genius. Boyle is an auteur in every sense of the word, as his unique style and sense of vision seep into every element of the film and the result is a vibrant, pulsating experience that grabs hold of you and, yes, makes you high.
Fear not, those of you who remember the original Trainspotting for its most notorious elements, the graphic (and I mean GRAPHIC) depictions of the horrors of heroin addiction, because T2 is a much easier watch. Putting aside a couple moments of ick-inducing bodily-function imagery, T2 is mainly horror-free, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less visceral. Music seems to be Boyle’s muse, as T2’s pulsating score, filled with rock songs, is the driving force of the film, punctuating moments and yanking on every emotionally nostalgic heartstring available. T2 is visually intoxicating as well, featuring some of Boyle’s best work of his career. But the best part of the film, by far, is the screenplay. The original movie brought an Academy Award nomination to its screenwriter, John Hodge, and the screenplay he’s created here is deserving of equal praise. Wickedly funny, the script is the definition of black comedy. I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud so much in a movie theatre. But the script is not only funny but emotional, resonant and cathartic. A magnificent homage and callback to an original script that was so good, this one is even better.
Overall, T2 Trainspotting may not be your cup o’ tea (you probably know if it is or not), but, let me say to you now: if you love visionary filmmaking that pulses with energy, humor, visceral imagery and performances with edge, humanity and passion, T2 is for you, no matter what. It may have taken 20 years, but the result was definitely worth the wait.