Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle
Watch Trainspotting 2 online in the UK: Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
“Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth.”
In the middle of Danny Boyle’s belated sequel to Trainspotting, Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) scolds Mark (Ewan McGregor) about his remembrance of old times. This neatly sums up the theme, and perhaps also the fear, that drives T2 Trainspotting, a film in which our older (but hardly wiser) protagonists are still chasing a past high, in one way or another.
The past is a foreign country, literally for Mark, who has cleaned up his act and has been living in Amsterdam since abandoning his friends and fleecing Simon and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) out of their share of a £16,000 robbery. Returning to Edinburgh after learning he has a coronary disorder, Mark soon falls in with Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Simon again, and is chilled to discover that a vengeful Begbie has recently escaped from prison too.
This sequel has long been in development, (with Boyle often joking that actors don’t age as quickly as heroin addicts do, over the course of the two decades it has taken for it to get made) and it’s a potent follow-up. It’s considerably lighter on set pieces than the original film, save for a sight gag in a nightclub bathroom and a raucous second act con, which is hilariously and delightfully lifted straight from Irvine Welsh’s literary sequel, Porno. But what T2 lacks in iconic moments, it makes up for in callbacks.
These range from a jaw-dropping flashback to the opening of Trainspotting to the less impressive and more trailer-friendly reprise of the “Choose life” speech that narrated it, but no matter what the success rate, writer John Hodge roots them in the self-aware notion that nostalgia can be just as appealing and empty an addiction as anything else.
Like the characters, Boyle is back in foreign yet familiar terrain too, recruiting his now regular cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle to bring the junkies back in style. It’s scuzzy but sumptuous to look at, with a luminescent quality that feels alien to the original, but aligns with how the world has changed, specifically in the lighting measures introduced to combat public drug-taking since 1996.
McGregor and Miller slip back into their old characters effortlessly, and Carlyle is clearly having a ball being a more clear-cut antagonist this time around, but the real revelation here is the way in which Bremner expands upon Spud. Though initially sceptical of Mark’s claims that he needs to find his own channel, like exercise, to get off drugs, his character arc – from his indelible re-introduction to his terrific final scene – forms the heart and soul of the sequel, putting everything we’ve seen into a different context.
So, breathe a sigh of relief: Boyle and his cast haven’t just made T2 a navel-gazing nostalgia trip. Instead, it’s a surprisingly stirring expansion of the original story, which elevates it to the level of a Scottish Gatsby, with characters beating on against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past. Like the original, it’s not subtle in any regard, but it’s a worthy sequel all the same.