Plot: After 20 years, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh. Much has changed and yet in many ways, things are depressingly similar. Mark reconnects with his old friends Sick-Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewan Bremner) and becomes embroiled in a get rich quick scheme that will have consequences for all involved, especially when a vengeful Begbie (Robert Carlyle) escapes from prison and arrives on the scene..
With so much time having passed, I wondered whether there would be much relevancy with a modern audience, or even any interest in a ‘Trainspotting’ sequel. The original film captured the so much of the ‘cool Britannia’ culture zeitgeist whilst also telling a gut-wrenching story about people trying too cope with the indignities of drug addiction. The way that particular film ends, doesn’t really lend itself to a sequel, so how could the film makers expand upon this story?
Fortunately, ‘T2: Trainspotting’ goes beyond the day to day life of people trapped within this specific set of circumstances. Instead, we are treated to a brilliantly told character study of middle-aged people dealing with the pain of a life unfulfilled, in a Edinburgh that on the surface, has changed dramatically from the one they grew up in. In spite of this new affluence and opportunity, our heroes have been well and truly left behind in the process, but the shiny new sheen hides many of the same dangers and depravities that that have haunted the city for years. The characters really are the key standout from the film, with the performers all uniformly fitting comfortably back into their roles. But, these characters are not the same as those we came to know and love. The passage of time and circumstance has led to all of them reevaluating their lives to date and the uncertainty of what the future holds for them. Wisely, the focus of the story switches from Mark Renton to Spud, giving Ewan Bremner the chance to shine. Spud is a fascinating character and Bremner enthuses him with an unexpected level of humanity and intelligence that serves the story really well. Through Spud’s eyes, we see how Renton and Sick-Boy have become trapped by middle aged life and Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller are both great as two men struggling with the weight of guilt, anger and regret. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is the bundle of rage he’s always been, but there’s extra nuance to the character this time, and Carlyle really gives the character huge depth and a mass of contradictions that reflect the mindset of someone who has been through what he has.
The direction from Danny Boyle is somewhat restrained compared to some of his earlier work and what we saw and experienced in the original film, however the lack of the frenetic energy that characterises the first movie is clearly deliberate and makes a great deal of sense when you watch the story unfold. John Hodge’s screenplay is more an amalgamation of various plot threads from Irvine Welsh’s previous writing rather than a straight up adaption of one of his novels, but it’s all the better for it. There’s a relevancy that the script manages to capture perfectly, whilst also bringing a freshness to the a well trodden story.
I can safely say that if you are on the fence about watching this one, it’s time to get off it. ‘T2: Trainspotting’ is everything you could want from a sequel and more. It expands upon the story and characters we love whilst giving us something new and fresh. It has some of the best acting I’ve seen this year so far, and presents a sombre telling of the trials of living in a world where hope appears to be lost and all that is left is the raw emotion of damaged people trying to survive. If you make one choice at the cinema this weekend, choose life.
Final score: 4 out 5.