T2 Trainspotting (United Kingdom, 2017)

March 24, 2017
A movie review by James Berardinelli
T2 Trainspotting Poster

It’s impossible to catch lightning in a bottle twice, yet that’s what director Danny Boyle is trying to do with his belated sequel to Trainspotting. More an extended epilogue to the cult 1996 movie than a stand-alone story, T2 (the title is apparently intended to tweak James Cameron) visits the characters 20 years after their original screen appearance and catches up with them. There’s not a lot of plot – this is all about seeing the long-term consequences of Mark Renton’s impetuous decision at the end of Trainspotting. It’s a reunion and, as such, is built on a foundation of drug-addled nostalgia.

Those who have not seen (or don’t remember) Trainspotting need not bother. For T2 to have any meaning, it demands that viewers recall the four principals from the earlier film – Mark (Ewan McGregor), the socially awkward Spud (Ewen Bremner), the twisted Simon a.k.a. “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller), and the sociopath Begbie (Robert Carlyle) – who are gathered together in their old stomping grounds. A few other old faces, like Shirley Henderson’s Gail and Kelly Macdonald’s Diane, make brief appearances and there’s a new female character named Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), but T2 is primarily about the relationships among the members of the quartet and how they have changed over the years. Those looking for meaning in this movie can consider this to be a meditation about aging, mortality, and the passage of time. Not exactly original (Logan does it much better) but that’s what you get when you reassemble a cast after two decades.

Although director Boyle showed admirable patience in waiting to make T2 until the actors had sufficiently aged that prosthetics weren’t needed, one of the biggest stumbling blocks he encounters comes from revisiting his own style. One of the reasons Trainspotting worked as well as it did is because Boyle (then an up-and-comer rather than an established, Oscar/Emmy/BAFTA-winning filmmaker) tried all manner of camera angles, tricks, and oddities. The movie had energy. It conveyed the heroin-fueled delirium of the characters. Who doesn’t remember the dirtiest toilet bowl in Scotland? For much of T2, Boyle tries too hard to recapture something that can’t be faked. He has a bigger budget but he doesn’t make a bigger film. Most of the unconventional shots and edits are copies of those he employed 21 years ago. The approach gives T2 life and vigor but it feels manufactured not organic. The eclectic soundtrack is one area where T2 shines, featuring diverse selections like John Barry’s “007”, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, Queen’s “Radio Gaga”, and (of course) Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” (informally known as the Trainspotting theme song).

The actors slide comfortably back into their roles. Ewan McGregor, despite having played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the interim and not having worked with Danny Boyle in 20 years, tosses aside his baggage and becomes Mark again. Ewen Bremner’s Spud is once again the most innocent of the group and Jonny Lee Miller’s Simon the most bipolar. Then there’s the force of nature that is Robert Carlyle’s Begbie. Sometimes darkly funny and sometimes terrifying, Begbie is T2’s most fascinating character – he even gets to experience an epiphany.

Nothing in T2 is memorable. It’s not that Boyle tones down the content – there’s a gross moment when Spud vomits into a plastic bag wrapped around his head and plenty of full-frontal (male) nudity – but that none of his images carry the weight of originality they did in 1996. That’s the essential problem with T2. It’s an unnecessary afterword that repeatedly calls back to its predecessor rather than existing on its own terms. During the second half of T2, Spud starts writing his memoirs – sequences that allow Boyle to pull flashbacks from the first film, further deepening the sequel’s dependency on Trainspotting. There’s an updating of Mark’s “Choose Life” monologue that, although giving McGregor a chance to emote, feels artificial in this context. For those whose sole hope for T2 is to revisit these unique characters and see how they’re doing 20 years later, the movie delivers (albeit in a rather long-winded fashion). But, outside of that select audience, there’s too little of value here to make it worth a trip to a theater. T2 has targeted a small audience and the group that thinks Boyle has again found greatness will be smaller still.

T2 Trainspotting (United Kingdom, 2017)

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova
Home Release Date: 2017-06-27
Screenplay: John Hodge, based on the novels by Irvine Welsh
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
U.S. Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Run Time: 1:57
U.S. Release Date: 2017-03-24
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Drugs, Sexual Content, Nudity, Violence)
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1