Review: Raucous ‘T2 Trainspotting’ has a lust for life
“Trainspotting” doesn’t need a sequel. The 1996 classic about a group of lowlife junkies mainlining heroin and pop culture was pretty much perfect, a jolt of pure cinematic adrenaline as pulse-quickening as the opening salvo of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.”
But if there’s going to be a “Trainspotting” sequel, “T2 Trainspotting” is the best case scenario. It rewards a cult-like obsession with the first film, incorporating copious visual callbacks to “Trainspotting” and nuggets of the original’s soundtrack into its DNA. And it honors the passing of time on its characters in a real, tangible way. Loser addicts can be amusing in their 20s, but they’re pretty sad in their 40s.
“T2” acknowledges this and doesn’t make heroes out of its gang of former friends, who haven’t seen each other since the events of the first film, which ended with Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) ripping off his mates and walking off into the sunset with a bag full of cash.
Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) now owns a dead-end pub and runs a side hustle as an extortionist ripping off men in a prostitution ring. The psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is behind bars, where he belongs. And Spud (Ewen Bremner) is spiraling downward in the throes of addiction, nearing the end of his rope.
A return visit to Edinburgh from Renton, who is now living in Amsterdam, sets things in motion and director Danny Boyle, working from a script by John Hodge, is off to the races. He’s a madman visual stylist, and “T2” lets him pull all of his tricks out of the bag, from freeze frames to fantasy visuals to security cam footage to all manner of eye-grabbing cues. He keeps “T2” energized and rocking to the hilt.
“T2” is about a lot of things: Aging, nostalgia, friendship, male bonding, revenge, redemption. It captures the rush of meeting up with old friends and falling back into old patterns, and also the feeling of emptiness that can come from rehashing the past. There are places where the film itself falls into those traps — Renton’s updated “choose life” speech, complete with references to Facebook and the digital age, feels forced — but “T2” is more concerned about the present through the lens of the past, and what that means for the future of its characters.
Those characters feel lived in and ragged, like they’ve truly been out there in the world, living hard, for the past 20 years. Miller, who has been playing Sherlock Holmes on TV’s “Elementary” for several seasons, plays Sick Boy like a seedy shell of broken dreams. In the first film there was a romance to his cocky young swagger, now he’s a washed up scuzbag with an elapsed moral center. Carlyle’s Begbie is frightening, and there’s a madness in his eyes that sends chills, even as he tries to connect with a son with whom he has no relationship.
McGregor’s Renton looks like he’s going to be the hero of the story, but that honor belongs to Spud, whom Bremner gives a kind, sweet-natured, heartbreaking soul. In this gang of dead-end bums, he’s the one you want to see succeed, the one for whom a slice of redemption feels most deserved.
“T2” does male characters and behavior expertly, but isn’t as successful with its female players; Anjela Nedyalkova’s Veronika is thinly developed, and her key involvement in several major storylines is overshot.
Like the first time around, the soundtrack plays an important role in helping shape the world of the characters. Edinburgh hip-hop troupe Young Fathers are featured throughout, and important pieces of music from the first film are sprinkled here and there as signposts to the past.
You know from the jump you’re back in the world of “Trainspotting,” Boyle makes sure of it. And he makes it a world worth revisiting, full of pleasures, perils and surprises. Sometimes running from your past gets exhausting; “T2” is about slowing down, letting it catch up with you and then taking control of it for yourself.
Rated R: for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence
Running time: 117 minutes