Is it Trainspotting that’s changed, or just me? I first watched Danny Boyle’s 1996 cult classic back in middle school, circa 2002. As a budding cinephile it felt like a shot of adrenaline straight to my sense of what a narrative film could be. I rewatched it in anticipation of T2 Trainspotting, and it help up incredibly well to my memories. And indeed, a bit of age and a subsequent trip to Scotland opened up my mind to elements that I didn’t fully appreciate before. So when I sat down to watch T2 Trainspotting, a sequel 20 years removed from its predecessor, it was with mingled anticipation and trepidation.
As T2 unfolded, went through a wide range of emotions — at turns it was hilarious and uproarious, in many moments it got lost in nostalgia, and most shocking of all, there were times when it felt plain out of touch. As the lights came up and I drove away from the theater, I couldn’t help but wonder, would the Danny Boyle that made Trainspotting straight up slap the Danny Boyle that came back decades later to make T2? Wouldn’t that former Danny Boyle have been aghast that his future self had to come back to an old idea, and re-tread the revolutionary work of his youth seemingly to make sense of his present? Of aging? I tend to think he would. And perhaps because I am still in my twenties I don’t have the time and distance to appreciate what it is to be in that place, to confront mortality, to feel so distanced from the past. Or perhaps these characters were just meant to live fast and die young and not be revisited so much later in much the same places.
Sure, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is physically quite far from Edinburgh, and he’s not on smack anymore, but he’s still running from his own demons. When his mother’s death brings him home, he learns that Spud (Ewan Bremner) has not been able to kick the habit, and it’s cost him most dearly. Meanwhile, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still in prison (though not for long) and holding a grudge (eternally) that will be problematic for Renton should he encounter his old friend. For his part, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) has kicked the heroin, but he snorts cocaine like it’s going out of style and he’s got a scam set up to blackmail important figures based on the sexual exploits they’d rather keep secret. He too is still sore at Renton, but he has a flighty girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova) and a plan to keep her around that make him rather inclined to at least appear to mend fences.
From there it’s all the usual shenanigans. The guys get up to no good. There are senseless actions and even more senseless victims. There are close scrapes and bad choices. There are highs and lows, but no one has really changed, and the plot doesn’t do much to advance them either. Perhaps that’s the point, but when all is said and done, T2 feels a bit pale and pointless.
Come to catch-up with the characters that are all impossibly alive after all this time and stay to watch Renton and Sick Boy improvise a song at an intimidating progressive gathering they intend to fleece to fund a harebrained plot. It’s a fun enough time, but this one won’t hook you like that first hit did.