T2 Trainspotting (18.)
Directed by Danny Boyle.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Anjela Nedlyalkova 117 mins
The two-decades-later sequel is rarely a welcome arrival, but despite that clumsy, off putting title, the hope held out for this was that nobody involved was coming into it with their hands out. Absolutely everybody involved in the first one – the Ewa(e)ns, the Jo(h)nnies (Lee Miller and scriptwriter Hodge) Danny B, Robert C, Shirley H, Kelly M, Peter M, producer Andrew Mac and Irving W – went on to make a sufficient go of their careers that nobody had been holding out for this, desperately clutching at this one last chance of a meal ticket or a comeback. Nobody needed this, nobody had to do this, unless it was worth doing.
T2 – we know another film called that, don't we? Terminator 2 took a miniscule original and blasted it up into blockbuster scale without losing the wit and wisdom of the original. This T2 though is a catching up with the old gang kind of sequel, with Renton (McGregor) returning to Edinburgh to face the people he ripped off and ran out on twenty years earlier.
So how is everybody twenty years on? Older and slower obviously, so much so that it now takes them an extra half hour to get through a whole Trainspotting movie. There's been lots of speculation about the music for this: would they be using Ignacious Pop again? Or the lager, lager song? Really they should've just gone with the theme to Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads and had done with it because the film is all, oh what happened to Ewan, whatever happened to Begbie, what became of the junkies we used to be.
It starts, just like the first film, with Renton running – but in a gym, on a treadmill. And that's the pattern for the whole film, a nostalgic trip around the old haunts and hang outs, ironically contrasting the then with the now, the T2 with the T. There's a great sequence a third or so of the way through where Renton and Sick Boy visit an orange lodge social club with the Protestant clientele happily line dancing and singing sectarian songs about the Battle of the Boyne while they steal their credit cards. And for a moment the film seems like it will spark into life, become its own thing, but it doesn't last. T2 can't, or won't, outrun the past.
So it's a shadow of the original, but that's probably exactly as it should be; being a shadow of what we once were is the whole point of the film. And if that's the film you want to see, the Trainspotters grown up, then this will do nicely. T2 is funny, like T was. Not as, but enough. The performers are on good form and the characters are still engaging. For the following week you'll be doing the Begbie accent: everyone'll be a Dosscont, the deceased will be Did.
The film is about how terrible it is to get old, but they all look to have made it through the years largely unscathed. (JLM in his mid 40s does pass an occasional resemblance to BBC entertainment correspondent Colin Patterson though.) The film's pace is rather more sedate but then it would be ridiculous, and frankly unseemly, for it to be as hectic as the original. It looks great too. They showed this to us on an IMAX screen, which seemed excessive, but worked remarkably well. The shots of the Scottish landscape fill the space magnificently.
Most importantly the way it deals with the passing of time and comments on the way Scotland, Britain and the world have changed are logical and consistent. The new figure of Veronika (Nedlyalkova) a young Bulgarian who came west looking for a better life and found Sick Boy, makes sense. There are two or three really memorable sequences. But, there are duff moments too. I strongly objected to the way they developed Spud's character (Bremner's performance is still very winning though) and McGregor's revisiting of the Choose Life speech is painfully strained.
It's been done well, but why was it done at all? I kept imagine Clockwork Orange 2, with a now reformed, middle aged Alex meeting up with his former Droogs, going back over his old haunts and maybe revving up the Durango 95 for a little bit of the old time's sake ultraviolence. There would be a valid artistic interest in revisiting the character, charting the effects of aging and his conforming to the norms of society and it would be in line with Anthony Burgess's deleted last chapter, but would you want to see it?
T2, who needs it? The constant harping on about the past, about how great the first film was, the glory days of their youth, just gets monotonous after a while – it's like a night out with old friends where all they want to talk about is that teacher you had, or that girl you knew at school. And like such conversations, T2 will have no relevance to people who weren't there. If you haven't seen Trainspotting at least three times, don't go. And even if you have, but are under 40, think twice. T2 is a typical British film – it's for old people.
At one point Sick Boy complains that Renton is a tourist in his own youth, and the sequel is a tourist in its own original. Probably all sequel are, but this surely overdoes it. Its passion for the past, for its dead youth is almost creepy (autonecropaedophilia.) Though we like to forget it, Trainspotting was as much a product of Britpop as TFI Friday or celebrity stalking Menswear out drinking at The Good Mixer. If those are your glory days then this is a real horror show.
They didn't need to do this, they didn't have to do this, but they did it anyway. I've seen Irreversible, I know time destroys all things – why show it destroy Trainspotting? The best thing you can say about it is that it is exactly the shadow of the original Trainspotting deserves. But I refuse to accept that the only thing to look forward to is the past.
Danny Boyle filmography