Conventional storytelling wisdom says that it is not plot, but strong character work which makes a tale compelling, and to that end you’d be hard-pressed to find better evidence than T2: Trainspotting. Yeah, its existence is entirely unnecessary, but no more so than any other sequel out there. Where T2 transcends sequelization, however, is by doubling down on the original film’s themes, reintroducing us to beloved characters and displaying just how mature a filmmaker Danny Boyle has become.
The film picks up in real time, some twenty years after our quartet of protagonists have parted ways on questionable terms. Renton is back in Scotland following his mother’s passing, and appears the have straightened his life out; Spud is separated from his wife and child due to a daylight-savings-induced mishap, which ultimately led to heroin relapse; Sick Boy is making a career as a cocaine-fueled blackmail artist; anew Begbie, for reasons undisclosed at the outset of the film, is locked up in prison.
Spud laments that heroin has always been his best friend. It’s always been there for him. He corrects himself – “It was my only friend.”
Time has not been kind to our ‘heroes.’ Each has experienced the loss of just about everything they could potentially hold dear. The only thing they’re all lucky to have is life itself, something that has classically held little value for any of them.
The plot remains irrelevant, mostly centering on the idea that Renton, having stolen a fair amount of money from the crew, is due for some sort of comeuppance from Begbie (who escapes prison in the most hilarious of ways.) Much like the previous film, there isn’t a classically structured story arc. We just follow he hijinks of the crew, laughing, cringing, and crying with them as warranted.
These guys are almost all in their forties (except for Begbie, who is pushing sixty), and it’s this advancement in age that drives the film’s thematic concerns. At a time when fully functioning citizens are typically building a future, the members of this crew were all living the junkie life, and now that they’ve survived a lifestyle that would have killed just about anyone, they’ve inexplicably found themselves to be grown men without a strong base, without a marketable skill set, and without any idea of how to fill such a long, punishing life. But it doesn’t take an addict to feel blindsided by the enormity of day-to-day existence, and as I press through my thirties (I can’t believe I first saw Trainspotting more than HALF OF MY LIFE AGO), I can appreciate the light tragedy of having responsibilities. The physical aches, the cruel emotional growth, and the ever-present knowledge that nothing is permanent — all of these things weigh on me, and unlike the T2 crew I’ve generally got my shit together (I hope).
Screenwriter John Hodge (who penned the first film) plays with this idea, alternating between dour and hilarious, keeping in perfect step with the tone of the original, but slowing it down a bit on account of everyone’s age. Boyle’s visual style mirrors this change. He too has matured. The colors still pop, the soundtrack still bounces (Boyle has a ton of fun dancing around just when, precisely, to drop some Iggy Pop on us), we still see high-energy camera work and aggressive Dutch angles, but it’s all that much more refined — without being at the expense of fun. Boyle’s love for this project pulses through every frame. Heck, everyone on board looks happy to be back, and not a single person is phoning it in. Even someone like Ewan McGregor, who has arguably become the most recognizable face in the cast, is completely enveloped by his character. He is unmistakably Mark Renton. Ewen Bremner is unmistakably Spud. Robert Carlyle is Begbie, through and through. Johnny Lee Miller and Sick Boy are one (although in my estimation they’ve never really separated). There are even a few borderline-meta moments which, in less loving hands, would certainly feel indulgent, but are more than welcome here.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of T2 is the way it treats addiction with a modern eye. We now know that it is an incurable disease, one which sufferers must wrestle with daily. If there is an arc to the film, it’s on watching the gang attempt to transfer their addictions — hopefully to one less damaging than the needle.
So yeah, the natural hesitation one feels toward the sequelization of a legitimate masterpiece can be put aside, I assure you. The cinematic cynic will ask “why?”
Well when sequels are this good – made with THIS much care, I think the more appropriate question is “why not?”
T2: Trainspotting opens in Philly area theaters today.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.