It’s the sequel that from the outset sounded like the most terrible idea, a crime against film fans everywhere. It’s the film that had to face questions of “why mess with a cult classic” from the get-go. Fans of the original 1996 film “Trainspotting” will find it impossible to have a middle of the road opinion about “T2,” and I guarantee audiences will either enthusiastically love it or vigorously hate it. Regardless of which spectrum you fall into, I have to say that nobody but Danny Boyle can direct material like this.
The story, based on Irvine Welsh’s follow-up book “Porno,” picks up twenty years after the original film. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) has returned home to Edinburgh as an older (if only slightly wiser) man. He’s off the smack and while in town, looks up his former mates — who have never really forgiven him for walking off with that bag full of money (as shown in the open-ended finale of the first film). Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the happiest to see him, but “Sick Boy” Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) reacts with anger. Of course as the guys hang out and share many trips down memory lane, their bromance is quickly rekindled.
Just like its main characters, the film has a cynical and much more mature tone and as a result, doesn’t feel nearly as provocative or disturbing as the first installment. It’s dark but far from mellow, and the characters are still fun even two decades later as the actors remain true to their rowdy younger selves (and all excel at showing the effects of time and hardcore heroin addiction). These are damaged men who are still paying the price for their reckless youthful indiscretions.
Hardcore fans of “Trainspotting” will find much to savor here, especially in terms of throwback references to the first film and the parade of favorite characters, including love interest Diane (Kelly Macdonald) and hot-tempered Begbie (Robert Carlyle).
Boyle employs some clever directorial choices by incorporating several well positioned bits of old footage into the new narrative — a tactic that could’ve backfired but instead feels fresh and new. The frequent throwbacks include a brilliant update to Renton’s classic “choose life” speech, this time updated and delivered with a heartfelt punch from a former junkie turned world weary man living with regret. It takes on a completely different meaning, and it’s by far one of the best scenes in the film.
Boyle makes fantastic use of his trademark snappy, breathless storytelling and dizzying visual style, including hallucinatory flashes and a blaring, killer soundtrack (this absolutely is the greatest movie soundtrack since last year’s American Honey).
This sometimes aimless movie isn’t for everybody as it is packed with profanity, graphic nudity, violence, drug use and (of course) one of the grossest onscreen vomit scenes in recent memory (but hey, at least there’s not a head first dive into a diarrhea filled toilet this go around). Folks new to the party will probably be offended or confused and some may find it downright incomprehensible, in terms of both storyline and dialogue (some scenes have quirky subtitles to help puzzled audiences figure out what the hell some of these guys are saying).
“T2” is the perfect companion to its predecessor, providing a meaningful epilogue and closing chapter to the original film. While it may not provide the same cult obsession potential, view into the counterculture, or the wallop of a thrill ride as “Trainspotting” did, it’s a worthy sequel that still manages to feel raw, fresh and subversive.