Sequels to much loved movies often come with a degree of pressure, but none more so than T2 Trainspotting which picks up the stories of the iconic heroin addicts two decades after the cult classic original. Both the anticipation and trepidation around the release have been rife as Danny Boyle returns to the director’s chair for the project, which is loosely adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel Porno. The plot sees Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) return to Edinburgh after betraying his friends all those years ago. Reuniting with Danny ‘Spud’ Murphy (Ewen Bremner) and Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), he tries to move forward with his life. Meanwhile sociopathic Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is out of prison and when he hears that Mark is back, he is bloodthirsty for revenge.
Narratively, the plot is skinnier than a pair of Renton’s jeans, sketchily tracing the latest in Sick Boy’s schemes, including a seedy start-up sauna. Begbie and Spud enjoy interesting subplots which emphasise the passing of time, the former struggling with his machismo after a long stretch inside, and the latter scrawling down little stories from his past which act as a vehicle for the nostalgia that cuts through the story. Mark becomes, as Simon aptly puts it, ‘a tourist of his own youth’ when he goes home and this recurring theme is emotively illustrated by neatly edited flashbacks, the throwback soundtrack and through references in John Hodge’s script, some more subtle than others. This angle does occasionally feel forced but works well on the whole given the context of the comeback.
With its typically picturesque landscape, a rejuvenated Leith scene and the famous cobbled streets of the Old Town, Edinburgh has never looked so good on-screen. Danny Boyle shoots in a gloriously glossy modern style which provides a contrast against characters that are somewhat trapped in their own history. Begbie still sports his now dated signature tache and Sick Boy bleaches what is left of his hair, and these signs of aging mean that the vibrant edge and energy of the predecessor have faded into a poignant melancholic tone that looms in the shadows of the sequel.
Stepping back into the shoes of the characters that helped launch their careers, the cast are on blistering form. With the experience they have gained since, they are able to offer a greater depth and insight into the psyches of the beloved gang of misfits, making them feel more genuine in middle age than they did in their untouchable twenties. The interactions between McGregor and Miller provide much of the humour as their complicated relationship is rekindled. Bremner gives a stunning turn as hapless Danny Murphy, who has never managed to overturn his crippling drug addiction and Carlyle’s Franco Begbie is as volatile as ever, but this time around the anger in his eyes is clouded by vulnerability. The fractured friendships of the foursome are fascinating to see again. In some ways, it’s as though time has stood still but in others things couldn’t be more different.
By intelligently utilising the passing of time as a storytelling device and not just for the sake of nostalgia, Danny Boyle’s risky follow-up is a rip-roaring success. T2 Trainspotting has nearly everything that could have been hoped for in a sequel. In the nineties, the gang joked about choosing life, Renton lashing out at day-to-day normalities in his monologue as he hid behind his heroin addiction. Now the reality of life is far more clear, catching up with them as the saga jumps into the 21st century with style, swagger and an inescapably tragic sadness.