Review: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Directed by: Danny Boyle | 117 minutes | drama | Actors: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Shirley Henderson, Steven Robertson, Gordon Kennedy, Anjela Nedyalkova, Bradley Welsh, Simon Weir, Kelly Macdonald, Irvine Welsh

No film hit the Zeitgeist of the 1990s as strongly as ‘Trainspotting’ (1996). After the lean and restless eighties, under the reign of Margaret Thatcher, it was suddenly ‘cool’ to be British again in the nineties. Not only the English, but also the Scots and Welshmen became optimistic about the future again and a new kind of patriotism emerged, manifested in popular culture through Britpop bands such as Oasis, Blur and Supergrass. ‘Trainspotting’ fits in seamlessly with that newfound British energy. Director Danny Boyle revolutionized British cinema with his thrilling, ultra-dynamic film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s picaresque novel of the same name and was followed by Guy Ritchie (‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, 1998 and ‘Snatch’, among others). 2000). However, those later films were not as influential as ‘Trainspotting’. The pounding soundtrack (Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ has since become a cult classic), the disorienting camera work, the game with tempo changes, flashbacks and flashforwards and the sometimes dizzying editing; everything was right about ‘Trainspotting’.

Why then did Boyle and his followers find it necessary to make a sequel twenty years later? According to Boyle, twenty years later is a good time to look back. In 1996, Renton (Ewan McGregor), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) were losers, but because they were young, resilient and vital they got away with it. Two decades later, those in their twenties are suddenly forties (and in Begbie’s case even fifties) and their optimism has given way to bitterness and disappointment at the missed opportunities in their lives. For Renton may have tricked his old buddies and left for Amsterdam with the loot to start a new life there; for Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie, little has changed in twenty years. The mild-mannered schlemiel Spud is still addicted to heroin and because he is not allowed to see his son, he regularly makes suicide attempts. Sick Boy is still just as unscrupulous and runs a cafe, he also earns money from cannabis cultivation and blackmail practices. He is logically at odds with his ex, so he only sees his son once every ten years. The aggressive psychopath Begbie escapes from prison, after which he tries to turn his good son into a criminal. And oh yes, he struggles with erection problems. As soon as Begbie realizes that Renton is back in Edinburgh, he sets out for revenge.

To the outside world, Renton seems to have it all done; married to a Dutch woman, father of two children, a good job and fitter than ever. Appearances, however, are deceiving; he is divorced and his job is on the line. Otherwise there was really no reason for him to return to Scotland; after all, he knows that at least Begbie didn’t thank him, to say the least, for taking the entire loot from the drug deal from twenty years earlier, when they had agreed that everyone would get their share. And Sick Boy also wants to work to get his money back. He has wild plans to use that money from Renton to convert his cafe into a brothel. It is his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), who tries to bring the men closer together – and on the right path.

‘T2 Trainspotting’ is of course not as innovative as its illustrious predecessor, and will prove to be far from influential. However, this second part is just as entertaining. Danny Boyle has grown as a filmmaker – in the intervening years he won an Oscar for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008) among others – and seems to use his bag of tricks with a little more control. There are still those skewed camera angles and fast montages are played (the film opens with a flashy homage to the Netherlands/Amsterdam), but it is more controlled than twenty years ago. Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie are still wonderfully contrarian characters, who tackle a midlife crisis in their own way. The soundtrack is still rock solid, with a lot of recognition for the fans of the first hour (‘Lust for Life’!). Boyle leaves plenty of room for the characters to think back to their early years and the wild adventures they experienced (and the needles they shared; nostalgia à la ‘Trainspotting’). That time will never come back, nor will the film experience of that time. Nevertheless, Danny Boyle has once again hit the mark with this hilarious and moving sequel.

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